Removing a human head from a person's body and attaching it to another sounds like a scenario straight out of a science fiction movie, but real life doctors are currently preparing for such a procedure; the first ever of its kind and one that, on paper, sounds like pure insanity.
The patient is a 30-year-old Russian, Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from a severely unpleasant, debilitating illness called Werdnig-Hoffmann; the most extreme case of spinal muscular atrophy, for which there is no known cure.
Spiridonov's health is declining rapidly, which is why he's volunteered to move ahead with such extreme measures. His doctors are planning a mammoth and mind-bogglingingly complicated 36-hour operation, which will likely require the assistance of over 150 doctors and nurses. Their goal? To remove Spiridonov's head and put it on another person's body...
"I would not wish this on anyone"
Despite warnings from concerned professionals, Spiridonov volunteered for the operation, initially scheduled for 2017. Though the ambitious procedure is technically feasible, many still harbor doubts about its outcome. One such person is Dr. Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, who said:
I would not wish this on anyone. I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.
What's worse than death, you might ask. Well, since nothing like this has ever been attempted on a human before, the consequences are wholly unpredictable, with a myriad of possible outcomes, some of which doctors fear may prove truly nightmarish for Spiridonov.
One fear is that once the head is connected to the patient's spinal cord and jugular vein, it may not link up to the rest of the body correctly. Unpredictable chemical imbalances could plunge Spiridonov's mind into insanity. The truth is, no one really knows what will happen for sure, which is what makes the proposition all the more terrifying.
It's All In Your Head
Director of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Centre Arthur Caplan warned that the patient may:
end up being overwhelmed with different pathways and chemistry than they are used to and they’d go crazy.
As science continues its inexorable march forward, there's no telling what groundbreaking advancements will be made possible, and, equally, no way to know what medical mysteries we'll unearth on our plight for progress.