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Doctor believes he can prolong life, transfer consciousness with whole body transplant


(NaturalNews) An Italian doctor claims that he can transfer human consciousness to a new body by transplanting a head onto a new body. This could hypothetically prolong the lives of people whose bodies are ravaged by diseases that cannot be cured.

The desire to achieve immortality with medicine stretches back centuries, and the idea of a whole-body transplant in particular has been raised as a serious suggestion as far back as the 1960s. But many very real scientific and medical hurdles remain to be addressed before heads are likely to become just another organ to be transplanted.

'Barbaric' experiments

Interest in disconnecting the brain from the body stems back at least to the French Revolution, when observers noticed signs of consciousness in heads that had been severed by guillotine. Speculation that the brain might continue to function after being separated from the body has been fueled by research into out-of-body experiences and similar phenomena.

But the scientist who probably did the most to promote the idea of prolonging life through head transplants was Dr. Robert White, who died in 2010. White's most (in)famous experiment consisted of transplanting the head from one monkey onto the body of another. Because the transplant left the cranial nerves untouched and reconnected the old head to the new circulatory system, the monkey's head was still able to perceive its surroundings, eat, follow objects with its eyes, and bite the hands of the scientists that had tortured it. But because the spinal nerves in the body had been severed, the new body was paralyzed.

Immune rejection caused the monkey to die within nine days. Critics condemned the experiments as "barbaric."

But White remained convinced that his monkey experiments were the first step in performing similar transplants on human beings. He argued that for a quadriplegic with a terminal disease, such a transplant would provide only benefits.

"I have no doubt this treatment will be available in the public arena within the next 25 to 30 years," he said in a 1998 interview. "There will be a lot of ethical and moral arguments, but I think they are inappropriate.

"What we are trying to do here is to prolong life. The human spirit or soul is within the physical structure of the brain. I don't think it's in your left arm or anywhere else."

White was convinced of this latter point, despite a lack of scientific evidence for such a bold assertion. As early as 1974, he wrote, "Science has reached the threshold where human consciousness can be transferred provided the organ which supervenes this characteristic is maintained."

Science or fiction?

Since White's death, his ideas have been championed primarily by an Italian neurosurgeon named Sergio Canavero, who made headlines last year when he announced his intention to perform a human head transplant by the end of 2017. He laid out a detailed proposal for a 36-hour surgery to fuse the head of a person with a debilitating disease to the body of a brain-dead donor. The head and spinal cord would be lowered to below 20C, allowing just one hour for surgeons to remove both the old heads and reconnect the living head to the new spinal cord and blood vessels.

Yet there is no evidence that a head could survive even for an hour disconnected from its body, even at such low temperatures. In fact, in animal studies two separate spines severed at the neck have never been successfully fused in such a way as to allow muscle control.

The problems of immune rejection (which is common even with hand transplants) and immune-system-produced scarring of nerve tissue (glial scars) are not addressed in Canavero's proposal. It is also unclear whether it is even possible for a brain to rewire to control an entirely new body.

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