Terminally Ill Man Set to Undergo World’s First Head Transplant Meets the Doctor Who’s Doing It

Bioethics   |   Sarah Zagorski   |   Jun 10, 2015   |   6:45PM   |   Washington, DC

In Russia, 30-year-old Valery Spiridonov will be flying to the United States to meet the doctor who plans to perform the world’s first head transplant on him. During the operation, Italian surgeon, Dr. Sergio Canavero, intends to completely remove Spiridonov’s head and reattached it to a healthy body. Spiridonov suffers from a rare form of spinal muscular dystrophy called Werdnig-Hoffman disease.

In Maryland, the pair will be presenting at a major medical conference in hopes to gain more support from the medical community. Spiridonov explained, “I am flying to New York and then will go to Annapolis to take part in the scientific conference with the surgeon Sergio Canavero. We will be together on stage. It will be a joint presentation. I will speak for myself.”

Spiridonov told the Daily Mail more about his decision to undergo the surgery.

He said, “I am not rushing to go under the surgeon’s knife, I am not shouting – come and save me here and now. Yes, I do have a disease, which often leads to death, but my first role in this project is not that of a patient. First of all, I am a scientist, I am an engineer, and I am keen to persuade people – medical professionals – that such operation is necessary. I am not going crazy here and rushing to cut off my head, believe me. The surgery will take place only when all believe that the success is 99 percent possible.”

Click here to sign up for daily pro-life news alerts from LifeNews.com

As LifeNews previously reported, the operation is considered highly controversial but Dr. Canavero believes he can pull it off. According to the doctor, both donor and patient would have their head severed from their spinal cord at the same time. Then the patient’s head would be placed onto the donor’s body and attached using a substance called polyethylene glycol (PEG) that would fuse the two ends of the spinal cord together. After the procedure, the patient would be put into a coma for a month to ensure that the head and body heal together. Additionally, the patient would be given powerful immunosuppressant drugs to stop the new body from being rejected.

However, countless doctors are urging Spiridonov not to go through with the procedure, which is planned to take place sometime in 2017. The president of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, Dr. Hunt Batjer, told CNN, “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.”

Spiridonov disagrees.

He said, “I can hardly control my body now. I need help every day, every minute. I am now 30 years old, although people rarely live to more than 20 with this disease. My muscles stopped any development in childhood. Because of this, they do not grow and the skeleton gets deformed. The back muscles cannot support the skeleton.”

He continued, “I do understand the risks of such surgery. They are multiple. We can’t even imagine what exactly can go wrong. I’m afraid that I wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen to someone else. What’s more, there’s already a lot of effort invested in this idea and that’s why it’s too late to back out. I came up with this idea quite some time ago. I read many scientific articles on this topic.”

In 2013, CBS News reported that Dr. Jerry Silver and a team of scientists at Case Western and the Cleveland Clinic successfully restored connectivity in rats whose spinal cords had been completely severed. This encouraged Dr. Canavero, who said such recent advances in reconnective technology give scientists reason to believe the procedure he proposes will be successful in humans.

Not only did Dr. Silver think the correlation was laughable, he was appalled.

He said, “It’s complete fantasy, that you could use [PEG technology] in such a traumatic injury in an adult mammal. To severe a head and even contemplate the possibility of gluing axons back properly across the lesion to their neighbors is pure and utter fantasy in my opinion. Just to do the experiments is unethical. This is bad science, this should never happen.”