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My question is inspired by Sergio Canavero's proposed head transplant for Valery Spiridonov. Here was my favorite article about it: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/12/surgeon-reveals-head-transplant-plan-but-patient-steals-the-show/

My questions are based on the assumption that Spiridonov survives the operation and the surgery is successful.

What will be the immediate social implications of such a surgery? More people to volunteer for the surgery, or will the controversy around the surgery cause protests?

What would happen to Spiridonov? Would he simply be allowed to return home and enjoy his new life and opportunities? Or will the government, or some organization (maybe CIA?) intervene and arrest or quarantine him?

The most interesting question to me is, what will Spiridonov's biological condition be? Will he be perfectly healthy if the surgery is successful? I know it is impossible to know, but if someone with medical knowledge could make an educated guess that would be great :)

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  • $\begingroup$ We could always wait and find out. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 17 '15 at 23:53
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    $\begingroup$ I've always wanted to have cockroach head, but does it come with bigger size? $\endgroup$ – user6760 Jul 18 '15 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ Checks out with everything that I know about. Stem cells, electrically induced regeneration, etc. The biggest issue will probably be rejection. That's a pretty massive change. I'm predicting he survives the procedure but ends up dying within the first week... if they even get that far. Hope he survives though, Brave New World after that. $\endgroup$ – Black Jul 18 '15 at 4:01
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First, let us clear up some terminology. The procedure is often misleadingly referred to as a "head transplant." In reality, it is a body transplant. This is important. Whoever donates their body to Spiridinov will not suddenly wake up with his head on top of their body. Rather (if successful) Spiridinov wakes up with a different body where his used to be. What will the implications be? For most people, important but not earth-shattering. Most organ transplants, while rightly hailed as revolutionary in the scientific community, have little effect on healthy people (unlike, for example, computers), since most people are not into recreationally switching organs. Even those who have a heart or liver replaced will essentially be completely the same.

If Spiridinov has a successful operation, it will be no different, in that nearly all of his body parts have been replaced. It will be a fairly interesting situation, because he would need to adapt to having a body of a different size and shape, and in that sense it would be quite different from an internal organ transplant. His appetite might also change. But for everyone else, what possibilities does this open up? It may extend average lifespan, but not significantly. Most of the ailments that such a radical surgery could fix can also be fixed by much more specific, much less risky single-organ transplants. That said, the possibility of doing it all at once may extend some people's lifespans. However, the finite lifespan of the brain remains the limiting factor, as it so often is (think Alzheimer's). Put an 80-year-old brain in a 20-year-old body, and it won't live much longer than it otherwise would (one decade, most likely). Its main appeal will be to people like Spiridinov, as a final resort when other surgical methods have failed. But again, even if successful, the surgery will likely have so a low survival rate that most people would prefer not to risk it, even in the case of imminent death or paralysis. One application that someone will undoubtedly attempt would be a radical sex-change operation, though most people would think twice before doing this!

In answer to some the specific questions: there will definitely be protests. I doubt the CIA has any interest in quarantining Spiridinov, since the doctor who performed the transplant can do follow-up research as well as they. Not to mention that there are extremely limited applications, spycraft-wise. Having someone else's head is not terribly good for infiltration purposes. Although it is a long shot, the results of this surgery are well within scientific boundaries, and undoubtedly the surgeon will publicize any success in newspapers and medical journals, and make millions of dollars. As far as biological condition, I am a biophysicist by trade, not a physician. So I can add little to Black's comment, except to agree that rejection of the transplant is the main issue. If he survives, I might expect to see some motor control and balance issues, even if the body matches his own well. It probably is not realistic to expect that the "attachment of the wiring" will be flawless. He will be a chimaera, though, which should be fascinating.

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    $\begingroup$ As a counterpoint, I find it interesting that the denotation of "head transplant" vs "body transplant" is not trivial. Declaring it to be a "body transplant" definitively declares the seat of identity to be the brain. I don't necessarily disagree, but it does point to some of the philosophical question of identity that may arise post operation. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 18 '15 at 6:03
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    $\begingroup$ Over the last decade or so, science has discovered more and more evidence that various bits of the body affect cognition and mood. Gut biota, hormones, health, many aspects of the body affect our minds. If he awakens in a new body, he might remember having different moods being happier or sadder in his old body, etc. But he won't have much ability to mentally affect how the new body affects his mind. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Jul 18 '15 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ True. Though I would note that with discipline, people have always been able to affect their mood. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Jul 19 '15 at 15:16

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