July 5, 2022

Is it possible to transplant heads?

Heaven has different meanings for different people. For some transhumanists HEAVEN is an acronym for (HEad Anastomosis VENture), an attempt by an Italian and a Chinese surgeon to transplant a living head onto a living body. They have been working on this project for several years and claim to have had some success with animals.

This ambitious experiment by Sergio Canavero and Xiaoping Ren raises as many philosophical questions as it does neurological and surgical ones. The current issue of the Journal of Medicine & Philosophy examines some of the complications, assuming that it is even possible to remove a head from one body and transplant it onto another body.

  • Who can be said to survive a procedure like this? Is it the person whose body was used or the person whose head is now on a different set of shoulders?
  • Is the brain really the focus of personal identity?
  • How can we assess the ethical basis of such a venture unless we agree on fundamental points of metaphysics?
  • Is it ethical to use a procedure like this to keep a person alive indefinitely, cycling a brain through body after body?

One of the contributors, J. Clint Parker, of East Carolina University, asks whether the project contributes to human flourishing:

“Dr. Canavero’s initiative raises profound questions about what type of life is worth living, and importantly, what type of life is worth living forever. Even if there is something important about enduring, is it good for human beings to endure forever as they are now? The stakes seem to go up the longer one lives, and it seems likely that rather than giving human beings enhanced existence, head transplantation, at least for the foreseeable future, would likely lead to a diminished existence. Even if it worked perfectly, it seems widely improbable that simply anastomosing a new body onto a head would keep the brain perpetually young.”