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psychoceramics: Strange but True

>From The Sunday Times (UK), Nov. 2, 1997. -- T.L. Kelly

Monkeys are given head transplants 

by Lois Rogers 
Medical Correspondent 

SURGEONS have transplanted monkeys' heads on to fresh bodies, paving the
way for a new era in human transplant technology. 

By maintaining the brain stem  which deals with reflexes such as
breathing, heart function and digestion  the research team has been able
to keep the new brain supplied with fresh, oxygenated blood. 

A series of experiments involving up to 30 animals has allowed surgeons to
perfect a technique of minimising loss of blood supply to the heads during
severance operations. 

The researchers also believe there was little disturbance to the monkeys'
higher brain functions as a result of the procedure. 

The animals were able to maintain the cycle of waking and sleeping. They
were capable of visually tracking laboratory staff and could react to
voices and noises. 

Their facial nerves were still operational and they could eat and drink
normally. When a member of the team put a finger into an experimental
animal's mouth when it seemed irritable, he was bitten. 

The animals, macaque monkeys, were kept alive for periods of days. The
longest survivor lived for more than a week. 

The latest developments in the 20-year project, including the vital step
of achieving respiration in the transplanted heads, have been reported in
an American scientific journal by Robert White, professor of neurosurgery
at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. 

White believes the technology will benefit people facing multi-organ
transplants because of serious injury to their bodies; sufferers of
degenerative diseases, and ultimately those who want a new lease on life
by transferring an old head onto a younger body. 

The Pope is among the influential figures to have taken an interest in the
project. White has been appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
and been invited to several private audiences to keep John Paul II abreast
of the work. 

"I have devised the operation that would need to be done in humans," said
White. "I have been to autopsy rooms and dissecting rooms and examined the
sort of incisions which would have to be made, and at what level, and how
the various vessels would need to be reconnected. 

"We are talking about an operation that could be done on humans. Whether
it should be done is another question." 

So far the bodies pumping blood through the transplanted brains have
remained completely paralysed because researchers have been unable to
reconnect the nerve fibres from the spinal cord in the body to the brain. 

The brains can think and are conscious, but cannot communicate with the
limbs. "I have no doubt this treatment will be available in the public
arena within the next 25 to 30 years," White said. "There will be a lot of
ethical and moral arguments, but I think they are inappropriate. What we
are trying to do here is to prolong life. The human spirit or soul is
within the physical structure of the brain. I don't think it's in your
left arm or anywhere else." 

However, he admitted the definition of brain death would have to be
altered to allow bodies  possibly those in a persistent vegetative state
in which there was still some brain stem activity  to be used as donors. 

In Britain, researchers responded with incredulity to White's work.
Scientists here are investigating the treatment of paralysis by regrowing
severed spinal nerves  not by transplanting heads on to functioning

Peter Hamlyn, a leading neurosurgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital in
London, who helped set up the British Brain and Spine Foundation, said the
work was cruel and irrelevant. 

"Your head might as well be in a jar as attached to another body. The fact
that it is tied to a body acting simply as a pump would just be an
inconvenience because you would have to drag the body around. 

"There might be a few cranks who would want it done, but for normal people
the whole point of having a brain is that it interacts with the body," he

Other ethicists and theologians are worried that the technology could be
exploited for cosmetic life extension. 

"It is indicative of the disastrous route that Western medicine is
taking," said Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics.
"Is any individual so important to society that we should tolerate
attempts to lengthen their existence in a way which most people would find

David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham, said he was concerned by the
social trend represented by head transplant research. "I do get more and
more alarmed that people refuse to see limits. To try to put a head on a
different body would be totally destructive of the personality. I would
sooner be totally dead than half and half." 

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