Bioethics Blogs

Heads Up: Plans for Head Transplant in 2017

Frankenstein might want to weigh in on the release of a plan to provide a new body to a Russian man suffering from the rare muscle wasting disease, Werdnig-Hoffmann disease (definition ).  Commentators speculate that the proposed fusion of “Mr. Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old computer scientist from Vladimir, Russia” to a donor body is unlikely to ever actually be performed due to the seeming unlikely odds that the technical challenges could be overcome ( www.medicalnewstoday.com ). Nonetheless, this extreme experimental undertaking raises important ethical questions about how far to press the boundaries of surgery. At one time, hemicorporectomy surgery was proposed as theoretically feasible, and though the suggestion was laughed at initially, this procedure has now been done successfully multiple times, albeit with significant risk of mortality. If we are indeed embarking on a new path where the head of one living being can be transplanted onto another, we must attend to the underlying values that we ascribe to mind, body, and personhood. 

In any transplantation and donation scenario, informed consent is a central concern. For convenience sake, I will consider Mr. Spiridonov the ‘recipient’ and the ‘donor’ to be the cadaveric body which would be attached. In truth, we could view the head as the donated organ and the torso with limbs the recipient, but that discussion is deferred for now. Is it possible for either the recipient or donor to provide informed consent to participate in such an endeavor? Certainly, if such an undertaking were to move forward, the risk of death for Mr.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.