Sunday, June 12, 2016

Head transplants--could they be feasible? Repugnant?

The NY Times has the story: Doctor’s Plan for Full-Body Transplants Raises Doubts Even in Daring China

"The idea for a body transplant is the kind of thinking that has experts around the world alarmed at how far China is pushing the ethical and practical limits of science. Such a transplant is impossible, at least for now, according to leading doctors and experts, including some in China, who point to the difficulty of connecting nerves in the spinal cord. Failure would mean the death of the patient.

The orthopedic surgeon proposing the operation, Dr. Ren Xiaoping of Harbin Medical University, who assisted in the first hand transplant in the United States in 1999, said he would not be deterred. In an interview, Dr. Ren said that he was building a team, that research was underway and that the operation would take place “when we are ready.”

His plan: Remove two heads from two bodies, connect the blood vessels of the body of the deceased donor and the recipient head, insert a metal plate to stabilize the new neck, bathe the spinal cord nerve endings in a gluelike substance to aid regrowth and finally sew up the skin.

Whether or not he performs the operation, leading medical experts have condemned the plan.

“For most people, it’s at best premature and at worst reckless,” said Dr. James L. Bernat, a professor of neurology and medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine of Dartmouth College.

Dr. Huang Jiefu, a former deputy minister of health in China, said in an interview in November that when the spine is cut, the neurons “cannot be reconnected, so it’s scientifically impossible.”

“Ethically it’s impossible,” Dr. Huang added. “How can you put one person’s head on another’s body?”