HOW TO GET AHEAD IN MEDICINE

by Geoff Olson

transplantHead transplants should be on the way in just a few years, says an Italian neurosurgeon. The surgery will be available for those suffering from diseased or soon-to-fail bodies, claims Sergio Canavero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He described the proposed procedure in the medical journal, Surgical Neurology International. 

Cephalosomatic anastomosis (CSA) is  the transference of a healthy head to a surgically beheaded body under deep hypothermic conditions, and comic book villains – sorry, I mean respectable researchers – have attempted it in the past on rats, dogs and monkeys, with mostly spotty results.

According to a report in The National Post, “sharp severing of the spinal cord and the use of modern adhesives are the keys to success.” (Adhesives – of course. Dr. Red Green isn’t the only one to have thought of this.) The involves “flushing the stump ends of the spinal cord with modern sealants such as polyethylene to accomplish what doctors attempted in 1902 with catgut.”

Whoa, National Post. You can’t just leave something like that dangling at the end of a paragraph.  A Google search of “catgut,” “1902,” and “holy crap” reveals that over a century ago, a 26 year-old American woman had her spinal cord severed by a gunshot. Five attending physicians verified that the distance between the segments of the cord was three-quarter of an inch.

“The ends of the cord were then approximated with 3 chromicized catgut sutures passed by means of a small staphylorraphy needle… This part of the operation was attended with unusual difficulties because of…the wide interval between the fragments… [and] the catgut frequently tearing out before the ends were finally brought together,” according to  a 1902 report in The Philadelphia Medical Journal. 

Sixteen months later, “the patient slides out of bed into her chair by her own efforts and is able to stand with either hand on the back of a chair, thus supporting much of the weight of the body.”

Sounds like a stupendous medical breakthrough from the time of fob watches and whalebone corsets. Yet it’s still a long way off from attaching someone’s cockpit to someone else’s fuselage. Today, organ transplant patients are put on a lifelong regime of immune system-suppressing medication to ward organ rejection (only about 60 percent of heart transplant patients live for 10 years or longer). In the meantime, their resistance-weakened defences can be breached by a kid’s sneeze.

So what happens when the hypothalamus votes no on a foreign body that is an entire body? (We all remember the sorrow surrounding former Vice President  Dick Cheney’s anus transplant, after the new anus rejected him.) The answer: more immunosuppression through drugs.

Across the world, cryogenic labs preserve the frozen heads of those who believed they could cheat death through future techno-resurrection, among them  LSD guru Timothy Leary and Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams. Is their time coming?

I hope not. This cockamamie health care option belongs in the sci-fiction/horror fiction genre, not in the real world. Sort of like my outline for a short film: after a wave of desperate test subjects are approved for the head transplant procedure, marketers target the doddering one percent onboard the North American health care cruise line.

Fast-forward to the year 2030, when a medical trend has become a lifestyle choice  dominated by Genbod, a genetic engineering firm that grows headless adult bodies.  (The company’s advertising floats the swimsuit edition of Surgical Neurology International, with its ghoulish, head-transplanted beach babes.)

The CEO of Genbod is Rupert Fitznoodle: an angry, old white guy with a heart condition. Hoping to deke out the Grim Reaper, Fitznoodle orders a new chassis through his health care provider. But the stock value of Genbod has tanked, fresh bodies are in short supply, and the clock is ticking on his ticker.

After some confusion in the hospital morgue, Fitznoodle’s jowly, liver-spotted head gets screwed onto the burnished frame of some gangbanger whose luck ran out freelancing as a street-level bodysnatcher.

Fitznoodle wakes up to a tent pole, his first in decades. And it’s big. His expression of slack-jawed delight melts into stunned disbelief when he pulls down the sheets and discovers his body is more burnt sienna than it is lily white. My contact info is on this site, David Cronenberg.

The Vancouver Courier, Mar. 6

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