Body-Snatchers: Did the Science and Ethics get a Bypass?

       Your choice. sir?                         frankenstein

Wow-I  just heard, on Radio 4 BBC, a whole programme featuring this Canavero person and his ideas for  head transplants. It is also all over the newspapers.

They keep talking about the person with a terrible disease of the body wanting their head transplanted to a healthy body.


Come on guys. Are you suggesting we kill healthy people so that somebody can have their head transplanted onto them?
I know- let’s go abroad and get their bodies!
From some poor family or some criminal or some hitch-hiker!
There is a dreadful exhibition that has toured the world where somebody displays plasticated humans.  Real humans. They call it an anatomy exhibition. It is completely disgraceful.
What it really is are Chinese prisoners that have been sentenced to death. If they agree to sell their bodies to the curator of the show (from, of course, a Western country) they will be shot by a bullet. If not, they have a slower painful death. Yippee. People murdered for your entertainment.
Please never complain about our ‘primitive’ ancestors when we go to things like this.
Please never complain about the visitors to Bedlam in the 18th century to watch the mentally ill for their entertainment. This ‘anatomy’ show is in the 21st century. All over Europe. Perhaps elsewhere too.
Now the proposal is that people are murdered so some old wealthy person, or some rich ill person can have their healthy body.
Oh this is so bad.
And what is really sick is that the said ‘scientist’ (I use the term, liberally) is bringing some man along who has a really awful physical illness as his side-kick. The said scientist is so deluded  that he thinks he is being kind and ethical trying to relieve this man’s suffering when in fact he is promoting something so vile and rotten I cannot believe he is allowed at a science conference.
It is also CRAP science- but nobody seems to care.
Canavero is so upset that the American public have not taken to his stupid vile ideas that he is taking his bat and ball in a hissy fit and going elsewhere.
Be careful where your children go on holiday.
The body snatchers are back.
See my blog below from  March 2015:
In a  recent report :

‘First human head transplant now possible’,

‘In 1970 Robert White successfully transplanted the head of a rhesus monkey onto the body of a second rhesus.

Dr Sergio Canavero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, has proposed using a similar method with humans.

 He believes that it a team of 100 could perform the operation in 36 hours — at a cost of £8.5million. Both heads would have to be removed at the same time, and reconnected within an hour’   (The Telegraph Newspaper):

Now let’s have a little think about this, using our own heads.

First- I am going to pretend to take this seriously and do the science:

Transplants are difficult things for two reasons:

1) immunological problems– where the recipient (host) rejects the donor (graft) tissue because they are incompatible.

Transplants require matching donor to recipient as immunologically close as possible, but the recipient (host) needs to take immuno-suppressive drugs (drugs that suppress the immune system) for life. This makes the recipient susceptible to infections.

Stem cell science gets funding because it does fundamental research that has applications that benefit this clinical area. One area is ‘Regenerative Medicine’. This is getting your own stem cells to grow new tissue, the tissues that have degenerated. If you grow your own tissues you avoid the problems of immunological rejection of a donor transplant.

2)  surgical problems- connecting the organ correctly so that it functions

Being able to re-connect broken nerve cells (neurons) would be of great benefit and the surgery that this claim invokes would be very useful in doing this for patients with spinal cord injuries.

We are having problems connecting the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system (CNS) is even more problematic, probably due to the glial cell support, but we are not sure yet.

So all of this points to Canavero’s claim as CRAP SCIENCE!

Now let’s look at the ethics:

You know those ads  for gyms and beauty parlours that tell you that you can ‘get the body you want’?

Well the body I want belongs to someone else (I can’t decide between Brad’s or Angelina’s as I would be happy with either attached to my head!).

So who is about to donate their body so you can have your ugly mug on it?

We can’t even get enough kidneys for transplants and each of us has two kidneys and can survive on one.

Heart transplants rely on someone dying as you cannot survive without your one heart and most of us are a bit reticent about being a donor.

Getting an entire  (healthy) body is even more unlikely. If it is a healthy body why are they dying?

This is all so stupid that I wonder if Canavero doesn’t, in fact, need a brain transplant. Any donors?


For the sake of the children- 3 parent families

3 parents


I have spent my laboratory working life in stem cell research. I am interested in ageing and stem cells seem a good place to start.

I have spent a lot of time around the regenerative medicine network and around people involved in Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) and In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

I have written papers in this field and in the ethics of this field. So I am not saying any of this without having thought about it.

In the UK we have been lucky to have the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority which regulates what is allowed. Because something is possible does not mean it should be done. It is possible for you to murder, but you should not do that.

We have medical interventions that can  save our lives, which is to the good, but we also have medical interventions creating lives that could not exist otherwise, and that is where a lot of contention comes in. I know that there are many opinions and feelings on this and I am not convinced who knows best.

We hear about people that cannot have babies, usually from women that cannot have babies, are infertile for some reason. They feel their lives are blighted, Now for me, I think that is a psychological problem as well as a medical one. I think they have focussed on the one thing they can’t do to the detriment of anything else. There are people with an illness that become that illness, they lose all sense of themselves, their identity becomes their illness. The Disability Lobbies have been stalwarts at altering that image. People with a disability are not the disability; that is merely a part of them and they are also able; able to be themselves. They are more than their disability. The same with disease or illness.

We also hear about people wanting babies that cannot have them for other reasons, such as being male.

And now we have people that do not accept this and so want to have babies somehow. Medical interventions and surrogacy have implemented this supply to those that demand it.

Surrogacy is basically renting a womb. There may not be a large payment, but the surrogate mother provides the uterus for the growth of the embryo. The embryo may be from the surrogate’s egg mixed with donor sperm from a man that wants a biological baby or it may be a donated egg from a woman that wants a biological baby, but cannot manage a pregnancy.

The problem of course is who really are the baby’s biological parents? I ask this as I imagine that when the child grows up it will want to know. Never mind the parents wishes. I want to know how the child feels.

We are more than our genetic material, but it plays a large part. Most of our genetic material, DNA, is held in the nucleus of the cell and codes for the genes that make the proteins that make us.

The mitochondria are little organs, organelles, inside each cell in our body. They are responsible for energy conversion. Glucose comes from our food and oxygen from the air that enters our lungs. Both glucose and oxygen cross into our blood and our blood transports the glucose and oxygen to every cell in our body. There insulin helps glucose to be taken into the cell (hence the problem for those with insulin deficits, diabetes) and both glucose and oxygen enter the cell. The glucose and oxygen combine in a similar way that petrol and oxygen combine in a car, burning up to release the energy contained in the glucose molecule, in the atomic bonds. However, in us it is done at a much lower temperature than in a car, with the help of enzymes which are protein molecules and proteins are coded for by DNA.

The glucose and oxygen combine to form ATP (the molecule on my front page) which is used as an energy store to fuel all the reactions of the body. Most of this is done inside mitochondria, so mitochondria are vital for our lives.

Mitochondria are unusual organelles. They contain their own genetic material, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Like any DNA it can have mutations and these get passed on in the maternal line as the mother makes eggs which have mitochondria in, her mitochondria. Each parent also donates nuclear genetic material to the embryo, but only the mother donates mtDNA. We can trace people back to ‘Eve’ by their maternal mitochondria. Many of us are interested in where we come from.

Mitochondria only contain about 37 genes while nuclear DNA (nDNA) contains about 30,000 genes. But the mitochondrial genes are vital and any mutations can lead to serious and very deadly diseases.

If a woman is carrying mutated mitochondrial genes she will pass them on to her offspring regardless of whether her nuclear genes and the father’s nuclear genes are fine.

To circumvent this, women with mitochondrial diseases need three biological donors:

  • one giving an egg with healthy mitochondria ( a donor female) but with the nucleus removed so there is no nuclear genetic material,
  • one giving nuclear genetic material (the ‘mother’ with the faulty mitochondria) but not donating the egg and
  • one giving sperm (the male donor) containing nuclear genetic material. Three partners/donors/parents.

The egg may then be brought through pregnancy by the ‘mother’ if it is only her mitochondrial genetic material that is at fault. In other-words, her nucleus with nuclear genes can be put into the egg with no nucleus but healthy mitochondria and fertilised by sperm. The problem is, you have just cloned a baby.

Again, how do the children feel when they grow up?

I imagine in the first case that the child of a surrogate would want to know the egg donor or the womb donor. In some cultures and religions it is the womb donor who is the mother, not the egg donor. I know of people who have used this method to have children because they wanted children. I am not sure how their children will react to finding out that their mother was rent-a-womb and that their parents have no further interest in her once she has done her bit.

For the mitochondrial child, there may only have been an egg with mitochondrial DNA genetic material donated and the pregnancy might have been in the mother. Not just the social mother, but the biological one.

I think we need to stop thinking about parents rights as there are no real inalienable rights to have children.  Who do you blame if you can’t have children? Who do you sue; yourself?  We need to start thinking about how we use women as just another commodity in our individual choices, in our buying power, in the way we treat each other and the planet as one big shop. We need to start thinking about how the children will feel and what they will want when they grow up. And most of us want to know where we came from, who our biological parents are, what their culture and customs are and how come they sold/gave us to another.