Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has announced his collaborator in China, orthopedic surgeon Xiaoping Ren, has successfully transplanted a head from one human corpse to another in a seminal step toward making head transplants between living people a reality. And if that sounds like some incredible or even Frankenstein-type achievement, rest assured that it is not.
Removing a head from one human corpse and replacing it with the head of another corpse proves absolutely nothing about the feasibility of a human head transplant involving one or more living people, and furthermore, nothing Canavero nor Ren has ever done in this line of work has been even slightly convincing regarding the procedure’s probability of success.
The announcement, which comes via Gizmodo, was made by Canavero and an associate (not Xiaoping Ren) at a press event for Canavero’s book, Medicus magnus. Made on behalf of Ren, the announcement lasted an hour, and provided zero–zero–proof that the procedure between the two human corpses had even been performed, let alone been successful. That’s the equivalent of Elon Musk showing up to a Tesla product announcement and showing you a drawing his friend made of a new car. Not even a drawing, just talk of a drawing.
Even if Ren did go through with this “procedure,” that means nothing. Both bodies are completely dead, and after (supposedly) swapping one head out for another, they were still dead. This isn’t a biological achievement, this is an achievement in sewing two dead body parts together. That’s it.
It’s almost shocking how little Canavero or Ren have actually proven. Despite all their claims, as well as the fanciful acronyms for Canavero’s procedures like HEAVEN (Head Anastomosis Venture), Canavero’s papers published in the peer-reviewed journal, Surgical Neurological International, contain no real substance–only archaic diagrams and a lot of grand claims of the world being “taken by storm” by Canavero’s “achievements.”
It also seems just about every doctor who’s heard of Canavero’s procedures think they’re a total farce. “To be able to say you can just stick someone else’s head on someone else’s body is not really feasible based on current medical understanding,” Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist and psychiatry lecturer at the Center for Medical Education at Cardiff University, told the National Post. He added Canavero’s previous “proof-of-concept” procedure involving sewing a mouse head onto a rat was only “pointless head grafting.” Dr. Hunt Batjer, Chair in Neurological Surgery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said that he “would not allow anyone to do it to [him] as there are a lot of things worse than death.”
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Images: University of Liverpool