Ep 13 Sergio Canavero – The Face of Head Transplants

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Sergio Canavero should not be the face of head transplants. The idea of removing the head from one body and placing it onto another is already disconcerting for many people. Dr. Canavero’s aesthetic does little to settle this disquiet. He looks like a supervillain. He looks precisely like the kind of man who would lop off your head and sew it onto another person’s body.

Sergio Canavero

While Canavero tends to embrace this cartoonish persona, he is not entirely at fault for it. The idea of awakening with ones head attached to an unfamiliar body is somehow innately terrifying. The media coverage of Dr. Canavero is perhaps too willing to pander to this instinctual unease with his ambitions. He is often quoted out of context and many publications seemingly go out of their way to find, or even photoshop, menacing looking photos of him.

Sergio Canavero is not, despite his artificially plumped maniacal appearance, insane. He is an expert in his field, and he was a practicing neurosurgeon for 22 years. His ambitions, macabre as they may seem, are noble. Dr. Canavero hopes to restore mobility to the physically disabled, and to extend the lives of those with terminal illnesses.

In this episode of Where is the Line?, we’ll be joined by John and Tiny from the Earth Oddity Podcast. Together we’ll discuss the history of taking the heads off of things and putting them on other things. We’ll share our thoughts on Canavero’s public relations problems. We’ll talk about the proposed procedural details of a human head transplant. And we’ll do it all while fighting to keep on topic as Tiny and John do everything within their power to veer the conversation into the oncoming traffic of their minds. .

Left to right: Kevin, Samantha, John, and Tiny


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Berko, Lex. Meet the Late Dr. Robert White, Who Transplanted the First Monkey Head. , 2013, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pggnk7/dr-robert-white-transplanted-first-monkey-head.

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“Dr Strange Meets Dr Frankenstein.” New Scientist, vol. 236, no. 3149, 2017b, pp. 39-41, http://libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=126895990&site=eds-live&scope=site, doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(17)32121-8.

Hjelmgaard, Kim. “Head Transplant Doctors Xiaoping Ren and Sergio Canavero Claim Spinal Cord Progress.”, Mar 27, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/03/27/italian-chinese-surgeons-cite-spinal-cord-repair-head-transplant-canavero-xiaoping/3287179002/.

“Head Transplant Doctors Xiaoping Ren and Sergio Canavero Claim Spinal Cord Progress.”, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/03/27/italian-chinese-surgeons-cite-spinal-cord-repair-head-transplant-canavero-xiaoping/3287179002/.

Lamont, Tom. “‘I’Ll do the First Human Head Transplant’.” The Guardian, -10-03T07:00:02.000Z, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/oct/03/will-first-human-head-transplant-happen-in-2017.

Ren, Shuai, et al. “Reconstruction of the Spinal Cord of Spinal Transected Dogs with Polyethylene Glycol.” Surgical Neurology International, vol. 10, no. 50, 2019, pp. 1-5. CrossRef, doi:10.25259/SNI-73-2019.

Ren, Xiaoping, and Sergio Canavero. “HEAVEN in the Making: Between the Rock (the Academe) and a Hard Case (a Head Transplant).” AJOB Neuroscience, vol. 8, no. 4, 2017, pp. 200-205. CrossRefhttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21507740.2017.1392372, doi:10.1080/21507740.2017.1392372.

Ren, Xiaoping, C-Yoon Kim, and Sergio Canavero. “Bridging the Gap: Spinal Cord Fusion as a Treatment of Chronic Spinal Cord Injury.” Surgical Neurology International, vol. 10, no. 51, 2019, pp. 1-24. CrossRef, doi:10.25259/SNI-19-2019.

Stem Cell Basics. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MD, 2016.

Suskin, Zaev D., and James J. Giordano. “Body –to-Head Transplant; a “Caputal” Crime? Examining the Corpus of Ethical and Legal Issues.” Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1, http://libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsdoj&AN=edsdoj.143045f4362447b974b67a8a58b2b1b&site=eds-live&scope=site, doi:10.1186/s13010-018-0063-2.

Van Assche, Kristof, and Assya Pascalev. “Where are we Heading? the Legality of Human Body Transplants Examined.” Issues in Law & Medicine, vol. 33, no. 1, 2018, pp. 3, http://libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=129561633&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Wolpe, Paul R. “Ahead of our Time: Why Head Transplantation is Ethically Unsupportable.” AJOB Neuroscience, vol. 8, no. 4, 2017, pp. 206-210. CrossRefhttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21507740.2017.1392386, doi:10.1080/21507740.2017.1392386.

Zheng, Sarah. “Head Transplants Aren’t Allowed in China, Says Senior Official.”, -11-24T20:17:34+08:00, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2121482/human-head-transplants-are-not-allowed-china-warns-senior-health.

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