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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Don't Lose Your Head

There were a few headlines this week about a neuroscientist in Italy, Sergio Canavero, who wants to perform a human head transplant. But Art Caplan, a bioethicist and frequent guest on my radio show, says not so fast:

Scientifically what Canavero wants to do cannot yet be done. It may never be doable.

To move a head on to someone else’s body requires the rewiring of the spinal cord. We don’t know how to do that. If we did there would be far fewer paralyzed people who have spinal cord injuries. Nor, despite Canavero’s assertions to the contrary, is medicine anywhere close to knowing how to use stem cells or growth factors to make this happen....

Ethically the big obstacle is what will happen if I stick an old head on a new body. The brain is not contained in a bucket -- it integrates with the chemistry of the body and its nervous system. Would a brain integrate new signals, perceptions, information from a body different from the one it was familiar with? I think the most likely result is insanity or severe mental disability.
Read Caplan's full piece here.