Would Transplanting a Human Head Be Unethical?


Credit: Dreamstime/Konstantynov

Last month, a couple of Italian surgeons published an article in Surgical Neurology International outlining how a human head transplant might be done. Assuming that it could be done, should it be done? An article over a Popular Science asks just that question, "Would a Human Head Transplant Be Ethical?" One consideration is that if surgeons had the ability to transplant a head onto another body, it is likely they would have the technologies and the skills needed to fix a lot of what is wrong with any particular patient without having to remove his or her head.

In any case, Stanford University bioethicist Dr. Christopher Scott grapples in the PopSci article with some other intriguing bioethical issues:

In true bioethicist fashion, Scott notes that the surgery would raise some thorny philosophical questions, chief among them what makes us human: "What is the donor and what's the recipient?" he says. "We all have an idea of personhood, right? Of what a person is. You know, a baby or a human becomes a person. And this procedure turns it on its head. Is this a person that the body belongs to, or the person the head belongs to? It's a chimera, a hybrid person. …Those are some of the deeper questions that we should have a real discussion about."

It surely is the case that the "person" goes along with the head. Grafting an older person's head onto a younger body would also be a kind of longevity treatment. After all, experiments connecting the circulatory systems of young mice to those of old mice, rejuvenated the old mice.