Experts Skeptical of Plans for First Human Head Transplant

Despite claims of preclinical success by a leading surgeon, doctors, scientists, and medical ethicists say the science is not ready.  

By | May 1, 2017


PIXABAY, SASINTItalian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero announced that the world’s first human head transplant—during which a recipient’s head will be attached to a donor’s body—will take place in China sometime within the next 10 months, according to a statement released last Thursday (April 27). 

Canavero has been met with consistent backlash from the scientific and medical communities since he first outlined plans for this procedure in the journal Surgical Neurology International in 2013, where he proposed reconnecting severed nerve cell membranes using polyethylene glycol (PEG). For instance, Jerry Silver, a neurologist at Case Western Reserve University who was part of a team that rejoined severed spinal cord nerves in rats, told CBS News at the time that PEG technology is “light years away from what they’re talking about.”

In the news release, Canavero said he is encouraged by “incredible results” from recent and forthcoming publications. Last year, scientists were able to confirm with electrophysiology that transected spinal nerves in rats recovered following Canavero’s PEG protocol (though four out of five rats drowned in an accident). Last month (April 21), Canavero and his colleague Xiaoping Ren of the Second Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in China published a study demonstrating that they could transplant the head of a rat onto the body of another rat while avoiding ischemia and maintaining brain activity.

These recent endeavors have failed to convince Canavero’s critics. “These papers do not support moving forward in humans,” Silver told New Scientist in 2016, in response to Canavero’s claim that he was able reconnect spinal nerves and restore movement in a dog following a cervical spine lesion.

Ren and his team will perform the surgery on an unidentified Chinese citizen, a deviation from the originally intended recipient, Russian Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from the rare and paralysis-inducing Werdnig-Hoffman’s disease. The reason for this change is unclear. Georg Kindel, the publisher and editor-in-chief of OOOM, a PR agency representing Canavero, told Newsweek that the main reason is that the surgery will take place in China.

“It seems it definitely will be at the end of this year or the start of next year that the entire procedure will be conducted,” said Kindel.

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Avatar of: ATRusso


Posts: 2

May 2, 2017

Not to split hairs but would this not more appropriately be referred to as a body transplant since the identity is presumably attached to the brain?

Avatar of: dmarciani


Posts: 53

May 2, 2017

It is somewhat bizarre to talk about head transplants, when at the present we cannot even prevent brain deterioration as shown by the Alzheimer's disease epidemic. 

Avatar of: BobB


Posts: 1

May 3, 2017

For fictional precedent, see "I will fear no evil" by Robert Heinlein (1970) which discusses wher the personality lies, "merger" of personalities, and feedback from the new body to the existing mind.

May 4, 2017

I have suspected right along, that the donor body for the transplant, and now, the "fresh corpses" that neurosurgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero will be conducting electricity through in experiments, will be coming from China; most probably political prisoners. Neurosurgeon Dr. XiaoPing Ren from China is Dr. Canavero's close collaberator.

Just think, first, already presuming the right body and right match will be available in December 2017. And now, there will be plentiful "fresh corpses" to conduct Frankenstein electricity experients on. (How many people would give legal consent to have their body used in connection with a head transplant, and how many people would give legal consent to have their "fresh corpse" be used for reanimation using electricity? China is known for violating human rights and is number one on Amnesty International Watchlist for human rights violations. Years ago, political prisoners from China were illegally "plasticized" after being killed, so their bodies could be part of a traveling anatomy show in museums throughout the United States, and perhaps elsewhere.

Why aren't people in general, and other medical professionals, questioning where these donor human persons/bodies coming from and if these people have given informed, legal consent? I think the proposed head transplant is unethical and immoral!

Avatar of: MVP


Posts: 1

May 4, 2017

To add to ATRusso comment - very good question. It is generally suggested that the energetic body (soul) is located in heart (so it will be body). Science didn't prove yet the exact location to my knowledge. Who can guess whose identity will be in the "sandwich"? It might happen that the head donor actually gets killed and the body donor is resurrected with a new processing machine (brain etc.). Can physicists help to ensure whose identity is transferred. Or is it possible that two can co-exist in one body? lol

Avatar of: JimM


Posts: 6

Replied to a comment from ConcernedWorldCitizen made on May 4, 2017

May 8, 2017

I wholeheartedly agree with Concerned about where these bodies and heads are coming from. To use prisoners is no less reprehensible than the pratices of the Nazis like J. Mengele. Indeed the Chinese communists have killed many more times in their prisons/purges as the Nazis ever did. It is a number that can really only be estimated anywhere from 45 million people to 60 million and counting.

Avatar of: jtrott


Posts: 8

Replied to a comment from ATRusso made on May 2, 2017

July 17, 2017

I totally agree and have been saying this since I first heard about it but obviously  nobody heard me :)

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