HOLY SHIT, GUYS.
…er…I mean, Mornin’ all yada yada. But mostly, HOLY SHIT.
There I sat, choking down a cup of what I’m pretty sure is one of Teen Beta’s failed alchemy experiments to turn lye into drinkable coffee while I read the news, when I came across this:
Russian Volunteers for First Human Head Transplant
See? SEE!? Holy. Shit.
Here’s the deal. An Italian scientist announced last year that he had a kooky idea to take the good head off a bad body and stick it where a bad head used to attach to a good body. A Chinese doctor heard the snickers and jeers of 99% of the world’s physicians and bravely stepped forward to say, “Sounds cool, bro.” The two scoured the planet for a volunteer, and finally a Russian named Valery Spiridonov raised his hand and said, “Ispol’zovat’ moyu golovu!”
My mind is blown. I guess not as much as Val’s will be, but still, I’m gobsmacked. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got so many questions. Let’s dig in a little and see if we can make sense out of any of this.
First off, this idea isn’t exactly new. Folks have been curious about sticking parts of one person onto another probably since they sat around eating their mammoth steaks. No tv, no radio, no internet…I’m guessing caveman dinner parties were pretty boring affairs. I’m pretty sure minds tended to wander. Ugg sat looking at Mrs.*gruntnoise* and had the zany thought of wondering what she’d look like with Mr.*gruntnoise*’s head. Oh, you know he paid for the hoots of uncontrollable laughter he snorted out at the mental image later. Mrs. Ugg had spent all day grinding ash into that mammoth flank to make it tender and he HAD to go and ruin her efforts like the uncultured hyena he was.
Bad form, Ugg. *shakes head*
Or maybe the idea popped into the head of the first guy to use his super sharp, newfangled, handheld weapon fresh from the forger’s mystical cave to lop off an enemy’s arm in battle. The blade went *shing*, the arm fell to the ground, and the dude thought, “Hm, intriguing. I wonder if the barbers could attach the fallen appendage to another man? It’s a perfectly good arm. It would be a shame to waste it. If one were to simp*splat**gurgle*…uuuuhhhhffff…*thud*”
Never lose concentration in battle, folks.
The point is, it’s an old idea. Very old. One of those thoughts that probably popped into many different heads in many different cultures at many different times. The thing is, until very recently in terms of human history, it was just a thought experiment.
…get it? Thought experiment. Cus it’s brains. *ducks rotten tomatoes* Oh you fool. You just wasted your ammo, and you haven’t even heard the worst one yet. Pfft. Amateur.
We didn’t have the technology or the know-how to actually attempt such a transplant. And even if we had been able to manage such a medical feat sooner, this has always been considered one of the taboo experiments.
In the medical and psychomedical communities, there’s a general list of taboo and forbidden experiments. These experiments are deemed unethical or inhumane to a level that goes beyond any possible justification as to the value of the data outweighing the horror committed to attain it. These range from conducting medical trials on people who do not have the capacity to understand possible implications, to deprivation experiments, to using inmates as living donors… There’s a whole list, and head transplanting is pretty close to the top due to successful recent experiments with mice.
Yep, you read that right. They’ve done this successfully already. Not with humans, no, but isn’t that the next logical step? They have taken the head off of one mouse and successfully attached it to the body of another. And, they’ve done it multiple times, so this isn’t some one-off deal.
The anti-head swappers have called this experiment “bad” and “irresponsible” science, for many reasons. They believe the experiment will fail, and many have gone on record saying that should that happen, and Val dies on the operating table, the doctors involved should be tried with murder. They are saying that the docs must have downplayed the high likelihood of death to get Val to volunteer in the first place. No one in their right mind would risk death for something like this if he was sane! Besides, even IF the experiment was somehow successful, it’s incredibly selfish for one man to get ALL the organs when so many people are waiting for organ transplants. Any donated body should be rent asunder and scattered evenly around the globe. Grumble and balderdash and stuff and nonsense and muttering about charlatans and…
Here are some facts about Val. Val has a genetic condition called “Werdnig-Hoffman Disease.” It’s a genetic disorder that breaks down muscle and kills nerve and brain cells that control those muscles. With all respect to Val, in the photo shown, the only thing that looks at all normal about him is his head. His body has crumpled in on itself. He’s confined to a wheelchair, and can’t even move his legs at this point. His arms have gotten to the point where they, too, are close to being useless. His life sucks, folks. It sucks massive amounts of balls, and there is absolutely no treatment whatsoever. His muscles will continue to dissolve until he is nothing but a head on a useless pile of bones, unable to move, unable to breathe or eat on his own, kept alive by machines. That’s the future Val has.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, because damn did that headline wig me out. But, I’m kinda on the side of Val and the docs here. I know it’s creepy. I know it feels wrong, somehow. I can’t help it. The more I read and consider, the more I think I’m on their side.
The body they plan to use will be a young, brain dead male. Trust me, there will be many options available to them without any clandestine behind-the-pub-waiting-for-an-unsuspecting-drunk attacks. Young, able-bodied men do stupid shit that gets a lot of them killed every single day. They’re going to start off with two absolute volunteers.
“But Bethie, Val is just desperate and not in his right mind.”
Yeah. Val IS desperate. He has absolutely no shot at living any sort of life. None, whatsoever. If he stays the course with his own body, he will only ever be a head. Everything else is too broken to repair. The doctors of the world have not done enough research to solve Val’s problem. Their “solution” is to make him “live” the rest of his life being a brain fed by a machine. That’s all Val will be. He won’t be able to talk, because his vocal chords are next on the Werdnig-Hoffman hit list. He won’t be able to move. He will be hooked up to machines that eat for him, that breathe for him, that pump blood through his dead body for him. He will not even be able to end his own suffering. Once he gets to that point, and it’s coming up fast for our pal Val, there is no way for him to stop it. He will be 100% at the mercy of whichever Dr. Frankenstein is at the helm of his “life” machines.
THAT is the “ethical” and “humane” future the doctors of the world are backing.
Would you want to be a cyborg head on top of a useless pile of bones for years and years and years and YEARS just because someone else wants to pat themselves on the back for keeping you alive?
I get it. At first I couldn’t wrap my head around all of this, but after thinking it through, I get it. In Val’s shoes, I would be gung-ho to try, too. The worst case, the very worst, is that his lifelong suffering is over. And even if that happens, the knowledge that will be learned for it will be the one and only shot Val has to contribute to the advancement of scientific and medical knowledge.
“You haven’t addressed the fairness of using all the organs on one person.”
All those organs were in one person to begin with. And if that person lived, then zero organs would be available for anyone. Maybe that donor would have lived long enough to develop cancer, or contract a virus, or be infested with worms, rendering the entire body useless for transplants. Maybe the person wants to gift their body to just one person. Maybe the idea of meting out body parts to and fro like a human pinata is pretty fucking creepy when you think about it.
“But it’s going to turn into rich old men buying bodies to use them in succession to use for eternal life.”
Classic sci-fi fears, playing out in real life. The thing is, all of these fears and trepidations have been voiced at every great medical leap. Some folks wanted to lynch the doctors in the Baby Fae for putting a helpless infant through that horrible ordeal. So many doctors in the medical community were absolutely convinced it was morally, ethically, and medically impossible. There were actual protests before the first human to human heart transplant. Protests!
And yet, enough doctors kept trying until they became successful.
“But…but…even if it works, Val won’t be the same person!”
Ah, there it is, what I think is the crux of the issue. What makes a person a person? What makes them an individual? How much can you replace of the man and have it still be Val? Is there a soul? Where does that soul reside…in the machine that is a brain, or in the chest that aches and warms when you feel emotion? Where does the person truly live inside a body?
Personally, I’m kinda hoping the experiment is successful and we can find out. I have no idea what that says about me.
Probably that it’s a good thing the Mr. hasn’t gotten around to funding my basement laboratory yet, eh?
Thus concludes a science-y Muse for Tuesday, August 20, 2016. I intended to hop on to talk about a completely different subject this morning, but when the first thing you see is a man getting a complete cranium transplant, everything else pales. Maybe I’ll ramble again tomorrow. For now, I’mma jet off to work. Unlike Val’s body double, it’s the only way I’m going to get ahead in life.
…told you. Next time, bring more tomatoes.