Human head transplant?
Published: June 13, 2015
Human head transplant?, On Friday afternoon at the Westin Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland, with the volunteer for the first human head transplant by his side, Dr Sergio Canavero made a bid to recruit surgeons willing to help him perform the procedure from an audience of fellow doctors at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons.
About a quarter of the seating was given over to video cameras, tripods and lights stands. In order to get the press-friendly doctor to the front of the room, one of the attendees had to take the podium microphone and bellow into the scrum surrounding Canavero: “‘Scuse me, press, I would like for you to back off, please. Enough is enough.”
The topic of Canavero’s keynote was a procedure he hopes to perform in the next 24 months, which he calls S-EX-ad Anatomosis VENture, or “Heaven”.
“Today I’m here to give us all a vision,” Canavero said.
The physician added that there was no such thing as the self, and that the final goal of his project was life extension.
For two and a half hours (the presentation was scheduled for 90 minutes) in front of an audience of mostly blue- and gray-suited middle-aged surgeons, Canavero paced the width of the long room in cream slacks and a reddish-brown tunic, bespectacled, his head shaved, looking like an especially hip monk.
He spent most of the first half-hour firing off aphorism after aphorism, some by writers including Kierkegaard and Arthur C Clarke, others of his own devising.
“If Heaven is reckless, nature is crazier, and nature must be given pause when it comes to what it does to us all as creatures on this planet,”he said.
The neurosurgeon, of Italy’s Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, veered between trying to inspire his listeners, digging deep into neurobiology and goading the white-haired medical professionals assembled in front of him. At one point he compared the procedure’s future success to the moon landing, with an image of JFK on the screen behind him.
“We must go to the moon to test who we are, to test our skills, to test our confidence, to see what kind of men we are!” he said.
“We must do it to test America! We must do it to see if you are still Americans! When I grew up America was the top.”
Promising high pay and backing from “American billionaires”, Canavero told the assembly: “I came to you; I gladly accepted this invite to humbly come before you to make a case that this is possible.”
He has said he plans to perform the procedure either in the US or China.
Humility was not a quality the audience seemed to sense in Canavero.
“You of all people have a definite sense of self, not an illusion,” said the first doctor to pose a question in the Q&A session. “What self is the patient? The new body, or the self that he suffers with?”
“Ask him yourself,” Canavero replied.
Valery Spiridonov, the man who has volunteered to undergo the procedure, spoke little at the gathering, but he was figure of great interest. Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, or spinal muscular atrophy. It’s a debilitating, eventually fatal condition that had taken a visible toll on the 30-year-old Russian’s body. Spiridonov emailed Canavero out of the blue when the doctor’s project began to receive press attention.
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