Head Transplants and Stuff Like That

By Jon|May 7, 2015|Empirical Science, Philosophy|

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be another person or “in their shoes,” you may have that option in the relatively near future. In February a head transplant procedure was announced, and now it has its first volunteer, despite the prediction that the operation will be ‘worse than death.’

Valery Spiridonov will bring take the debate from the hypothetical to the real. The 36-hour operation requires 150 doctors and nurses to sever the neck and hook up the crucial blood vessels to tubes and then sever the spinal cord.  “The recipient’s head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord – which resemble two densely packed bundles of spaghetti – are fused together,” says Thomson. “To achieve this, Canavero intends to flush the area with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, and follow up with several hours of injections of the same stuff. Just like hot water makes dry spaghetti stick together, polyethylene glycol encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh.” The final step is to stitch up the muscles and blood supply, induce a 4 to 6 week coma while the the nerve connections are electrically stimulated.

If this raises an eyebrow you’re not alone. Of course philosophers have debated the meaning of such a hypothetical procedure for personal identity for a while — and the answers, like any other topic, are quite diverse. For followers of Thomas Aquinas, the soul is the form of the body. But how much of the body? Does the soul simply follow the brain? If the person is body and soul, how much of the body do you have to take away before you have a different person?

I asked Dr. Patrick Lee, Chair of the Bioethics Department at Franciscan University of Steubenville what he thinks. He is of the opinion that “the brain is the minimal part of the human body,” while others believe there is somethinghead-transplant-gummy-bears

What do you think?


About Jon

Jon connects leaders and organizations to Catholic philosophical resources to battle for the soul of the western world.