China head transplant sentence of the day to ponder

Critics attribute such medical experimentation in China to national ambition, generous state funding, a utilitarian worldview that prioritizes results, and a lack of transparency and accountability to the outside world.

If that is the critics, I wonder what the defenders say!  That concerns transplanting one person’s head onto the body of another.  From that NYT article, the procedure still seems impossible.  Nonetheless I am not sure the NYT’s articulation of the critical charges sounds as damning as many biomedical ethicists might wish to think…


Interesting ethical debate. It just seems "wrong", but what is the actual argument for that?

The consensus seems to be that there is nothing unethical about transplanting a kidney, heart, hand, etc. Is a whole body transplant different? If so, where is the cutoff point (no pun intended, har har)? How much of a body is it ethical to transplant?

A person is clearly defined by his brain (and maybe his face) - the rest does not matter as much. So that's not the problem. The main ethical problem I see right now is that there's no solution for the spinal cord so far. So in other words the person will be paralyzed from the neck downwards. Tetraplegia is awful and it also involves the respiratory muscles so this Frankenstein wouldn't even be able to breathe without a (pretty huge) machine. Not to mention transplant rejection. One organ is bad enough, a whole body is impossible as of now. People who say otherwise are most likely quacks and charlatans.

This is being proposed as a solution to paralysis, with those advocating it claiming the spinal cord issues are solved. At least some other experts seem to say recent developments do give potential to reconnect the spinal cord.

Clearly, though, it seems way too early to do this, and the risks are huge. It is unethical because of the risks.

However, the article also seems to imply there is an inherent ethical issue with putting a head on someone else's body. The basis for that is not clear. Though I don't think everyone agrees "a person is clearly defined by his brain (and maybe his face)".

If we knew how to reconnect spinal cords, that in itself would be a cure for (most) paralysis, obviating the need for body transplants.

Exactly right. The indication for the head transplant is not clear to me. The spinal cord remains the problem. They act like they found a solution but they got none. This whole act about the head transplantation is just a distraction. Founding a solution for tetraplegia would result in an instant Nobel Prize. It would be all over the media. A dream of mankind coming true. Better than flying cars. Like I said: Quacks and charlatans.

Nope. Scar tissue. Making a clean cut with a scalpel and then re-attaching is not the same as trying to restore the function 10 years after a car crash.

"The basis for that is not clear."
Dito. I don't see the basis.

"A person is clearly defined by his brain (and maybe his face) – the rest does not matter as much."

Spend a day without the computers. Go outside for a long walk. Spend some time around other people and notice how you go about identifying them when their faces are turned away from you.

The brain is probably most of "us" but "thinking with our" applies, including the intestine-mood connection. Mostly positive when moving to a healthy body?

Anyway, the "strengths" listed in the quoted paragraph apply to much more than medicine. I think they are all achievable for Western democracies, save one. Lack of transparency is not good, nor a strength. Public knowledge does more to promote progress.

So folks, stop arguing about what bathroom to use, become a bit more utilitarian. Make sure the plumbing works, the sink has soap, and move on.

The NYT claimed that: "Neither Dr. Canavero nor the Russian institute has plans to carry it out, though, they say."

It is different from the report from another paper:

"""Italian doctor hopes to perform first human HEAD transplant next year"""

and it even mentioned Sergio Canavero has a volunteer who suffers from a debilitating
muscle-wasting disease for the operation.

Other reports state that Canavero and an international team of doctors are partnering with Ren on the procedure:

Overall, seems like the NY Times story is incomplete.

Head transplant or body transplant?

Xi Jinping is clearly headed towards being the Leader for the next Thousand Years.

On the plus side, at least he will never have a problem finding volunteers to provide a body.

He clearly is headed. And will remain so!

that implies the head/brain will last indefinitely while it's the body that fails and causes death. I'm not sure that's well supported -- or perhaps I'm just taking your statement too seriously and missed the humor.

As you get older the average persons mental functions deteriorate. It's hard to see how that kind of surgery could extend life much beyond 120 years. Not that some people won't try of course.

The brain's function does decline but is that a product inherent to the brain cells or is it a product of the general decline of the rest of the body? Is it a perfectly functional organ but the general clean up mechanisms of the body fail and so clog the brain with gunk?

We don't know. It may be that attaching the brain to a new body will provide a better hosting service. It may also provide hormones and the like that means the brain will even be able to grow. If you attached a 70 year old head to a 7 year old body, we would expect the raging hormones to have some effect. But what? We won't know until we try.

It would be embarrassing to interview, say, the still living Lenin, attached to a new body, and find out that he was a drooling idiot.

Wouldn't it be more ethical to start by transplanting the head of a pig onto a person?

The human needs a body and the first successful human head onto a dogs body was done in 1978.

That was freaky, and spooked Donald Sutherland as well.

Well, the Chinese are putting their heads together for more mundane, and important, results, like being the world leader in super computers. Yes, we are on the cusp of the new phase of globalization, and while China may well surpass the west in technology, the west is obsessed with voodoo (transplanting heads).

It runs on Linux ;)

The top supercomputers are neat, but as soon as they moved to racks of servers it became "who wants to spend the most on one project?"

Google, Amazon, and Facebook spend more, have more racks of fast servers, just not defined as "a" supercomputer.

(As Axa notes, all Linux, which gives a technical student strong reason to learn the platform.)

Oh, some amazing Intel news here:

I am one of those who think Moore's Law isn't "dead," it is just a new game. It is about MIPS per watt now.

That's not really the big news. The big news is Intel releasing 10 Core consumer grade CPU's. Unfortunately most software still doesn't use multi-core CPU's very well at all.

Hedonic or utilitarian consumption? From the utilitarian side, someone mentioned before the spinal cord and assisted respiration issues. Thus, the utility if not zero is very low. From the hedonic side, it's interesting. What percentage of people would get value of living like Stephen Hawking (at best)? This would be attractive proposal to 0.0001% of humans with a rich and fulfilling intellectual life, what about the rest of us?

I mentioned Mr. Hawking because he has two assets: intelligence and emotional strength to stay sane. The ex-wife has a different opinion but the guy is socially accepted as "sane". The question is, how many people would stay sane under those conditions or more limited ones? For short, if an individual just go crazy after the transplant, where's the utility?

I wonder if the ultimate goal is a transplant to a cloned body to eliminate all the issues with tissue rejection. Still have the issue of connecting the brian to the body -- or writing the current person onto the cloned (and younger) brain.

Maybe, but how do you get a cloned body, that's not just a younger version (identical sibling) of yourself? And wouldn't that clone be a thinking individual.

Please tell me that's a subtle pun, and if so, I see what you did there.

If not, I hope that scholars have considered the effect hedonic adjustments in their analysis.

Well, that's a first. Subtle is not a word people associate with me.

It will never work in North Carolina.

Imagine the head of a man being attached to the body of a woman.

Which bathroom to use.

Put an adult female head on a male fetus, in utero. Is it still totes cool to for Hilary chop it up and vacuum it out? Durrrrr, Bill level posting.

No credit for that one. You couldn't answer the question so you changed the subject.


Anatomically a woman - so the lady's room. That wasn't hard.

Ah, yes, but since it is the head of a man, with all his desires, how would you feel if your daughter....

The only ethical debate is whether it is too soon to try this operation on humans or if it has to be proven by more animal models. Beyond that I think we are limited to the usual ethical questions that surround organ donation (where are we getting the dead bodies for the donations?).

This is an interesting question for 'gender purists' to answer. If a female head is put on a male body what would their argument be for that person's gender to not change from female to male? Would they say since the person's brain is female the gender should remain female? if that's the case how could they argue that when transgender people assert the below the head portion of their bodies don't match their gender are 'delusional'?

The transgendered person's perception of gender mismatch is argued to be the basis for their delusion. You're 'exceptional' argument assumes both that the gender mismatch is based in reality, and that your opponents agree.

Well what defines something as a delusion? IMO it sounds like it would be something like a belief that something is true when it is objectively not. The assertion against transgenderism then seems to be that gender is objectively defined by anatomy, since a man has male anatomy he cannot be female...if he believes he is then he is delusional.

But if that is the definition then if his head is transferred to a female body then he *must* become female. Their implicit definition is gender is defined below the neck and not the brain. If they are comfortable with that then it is fine, if they are uncomfortable, though, then it seems they are allowing gender to be defined elsewhere than below the neck anatomy (like the brain). If gender is so defined like that, then what is the basis for asserting delusion?

The X or Y chromosomes in every cell of one's body. It is easier to believe these are men and women in the grip of a delusion given the massive intervention required to get some shambling, freakish-looking semblance of their "true" sex than that their minds got metaphysically deposited in the wrong sex's body. (How does that happen anyway? Is it a secular Sacred Mystery?) And if it's a brain thing, then we can diagnose this with some advanced radiographs. Has this been done?

Again, you miss the point your opponents make. In your example you synthetically produce an analogous being to what transgendered people claim to be. Your opponents argue that the transgendered people are simply delusional, not describing their gender mismatch in accordance with reality, thus making your 'analogous being' only analogous to a fiction.

Your analogous being has no analog in the argument made by your opponents, who do not concede gender mismatch, and therefore the conclusions of their arguments are not transferable.

Robert Heinlein wrote this story in the novel, "I Will Fear No Evil": it became the unmistakable evidence of his dotage. I'll pass on it this time too.

Someone needs to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis of bioethics. Or perhaps just ethics.

Any ethics? Or a particular construal of ethics?

The only ethical question is whose body?

Gives new meaning to the phrase "over my dead body."

Back in the 1980s the US Patent Office issued, then pulled, a patent on a head transplant for monkeys I believe...on 'ethical grounds'. I never did understand the logic behind that's like 'standing logic on its head'?!

I kind of alluded to this above, but to break it out, Asian Tiger nations might be more technophilic than old democracies, and that might be a big advantage.

Take a nerd to lunch, talk about weird shi*t.

I can't wait to see Aunt Bee's head on Lou Ferrigno's body. "Hey, Opie! Can you go inside and help Aunt Bee with her reps?" Count me in.

This could also be a solution to our Obesity epidemic. Put heads on healthy-weight bodies!

Or the opposite..."Sorry, but the only bodies we have in stock right now are super-sized."

What is the current view of the ethics of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and do-not-resuscitate orders? If it is ethical to allow a patient to choose death with 100% certainty, then how can it be unethical to allow a patient to accept the mere risk (less than 100% probability) of death in the hope of a successful body transplant, even if the odds of success are quite low?

Read Thomas Mann's "The Transposed Heads."

Comments for this post are closed