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Italian surgeon shocks: Head transplants nearly a reality

Head transplant

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(NaturalNews) It sounds like something out of a grotesque science fiction movie but it's not: An Italian doctor has said that, in about two years, the technology will exist for surgeons to attach the head of a living person to another body.

As reported by Britain's Guardian newspaper:

Sergio Canavero, a doctor in Turin, Italy, has drawn up plans to graft a living person's head on to a donor body and claims the procedures needed to carry out the operation are not far off.

Canavero says he wants to assemble a team to explore the radical procedure in a project he hopes to launch this summer during a meeting for neurological surgeons at a conference in Maryland in June.

For years he has said the science has advanced to the point where a full body transplant is indeed possible, but thus far the procedure has created shock, raised eyebrows and extreme disbelief among doctors.

Canavero recently published at sweeping outline of the surgical procedure, which he has termed the "Gemini Spinal Cord Fusion Protocol." In that paper, the Italian physician noted documented cases of severed spinal cords that were surgically reattached, resulting in return of at least partial motion and function to the patients.

There has been some success in the distant past

One such case occurred more than a century ago, in 1902, when surgeons tried the procedure a 26-year-old woman called "CN" who had her spinal cord severed by a .32 caliber bullet. All five attending physicians documented that the distance between the two ends of severed cord was three-quarters of an inch.

"The ends of the cord were then approximated with 3 chromicized catgut sutures passed by means of a small staphylorraphy needle, one suture being passed anteroposteriorly through the entire thickness of the cord and the other two being passed transversely," says documentation of the procedure, as quoted by Canavero. "This part of the operation was attended with unusual difficulties because of...the wide interval between the fragments, the catgut frequently tearing out before the ends were finally brought together." Sixteen months later, "the patient slides out of bed into her chair by her own efforts and is able to stand with either hand on the back of a chair, thus supporting much of the weight of the body."

In a recent interview with New Science magazine, the Italian doctor said he wanted to use body transplants to prolong the lives of those suffering from terminal diseases.

"If society doesn't want it, I won't do it," he said, as quoted by the Guardian. "But if people don't want it, in the U.S. or Europe, that doesn't mean it won't be done somewhere else.

"I'm trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you," he added.

There are, of course, a number of technical and health-related issues associated with such a procedure. And the medical community - especially the neurological medical community - will be the first to cast aspersions on such a procedure, calling it technologically impossible.

The Guardian further reported:

Putting aside the considerable technical issues involved in removing a living person's head, grafting it to a dead body, reviving the reconstructed person and retraining their brain to use thousands of unfamiliar spinal cord nerves, the ethics are problematic.

'The real issue is the ethics'

But there are a whole host of other issues as well. First, the paper notes that there are plenty of cases where people who had received transplanted appendages disliked them so much they had them removed. Also, there is absolutely no research available on the psychology of going under anesthesia for such a procedure and waking up with an entirely new body. And of course there is the issue of medical ethics: Who would be first in line to receive new bodies? Would the procedure be solely reserved for the elite and wealthy?

Canavero wants to at least have the conversations.

"The real stumbling block is the ethics," he told New Scientist. "Should this surgery be done at all? There are obviously going to be many people who disagree with it."

According to the Guardian, though, not many in the medical/surgical community share Canavero's belief that such a procedure is likely for quite some time, let alone two years.





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