Last year, the world was both interested and flipped out after an Italian physician, Dr Sergio Canavero, claimed he would be carrying out the world’s first human head transplant. Now, a Chinese surgeon has stepped up to say that he also intends to perform this incredibly challenging operation.
Dr Ren Xiaoping described in a conversation with the New York Times that he is developing an team and fine-tuning a strategy to carry out the operation, which he said will occur “when we are prepared.”
The plan includes severing two heads from their bodies and then connecting the veins of the body of the dead donor and the recipient’s head. The team will also place a metal plate to strengthen the neck and then soak the spinal cord nerve endings in a material to inspire them to connect.
Dr Ren, sarcastically known as “Dr Frankenstein” by the press, obtained notoriety earlier this year after declaring to perform a head transplant on a monkey. Even in this research, the monkey only were able to survive for 20 hours before it was euthanized for ethical reasons.
Still, the report from the New York Times claimed that several people China have already offered for the transplant, such as Wang Huanming, a 62-year-old who was paralyzed from the neck down six years ago.
The strategy has many obstacles to get over and has already obtained a great deal of critique. First of all, many major physicians query whether it is even technically possible to reconnect nerves in the spine, despite latest advancements made in this area of bio-medicine.
Other issues come from an ethical viewpoint. In a article for Forbes about Dr Sergio Canavero, Arthur Caplan, head of healthcare ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said: “Would a brain incorporate new alerts, perceptions, information from an body different from the one it was familiar with? I think the most likely outcome is madness or serious psychological disability.
“Brain transplantation is not prepared for primary time. To try and shift a brain to a new body given what is known about the medication and science engaged, one would have to be out of one’s mind.”
Similar issues affect Dr Ren’s ambitions. However, many are concerned that China’s blind ambition for medical expertise and poor reputation for medical ethics could mean that Dr Ren will not be deterred by critique.
Discussing to the New York Times, Caplan added: “The Chinese system is not clear in any way. I do not believe in Chinese bioethical thought or plan. Add healthier doses of policies, national pride and business, and it is tough to know what is going on.”