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How Human Head Transplants Could Work


Dr. Sergio Canavero discusses his hopes to perform the world's first head transplant on Russian Valery Spiridonov at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 12, 2015.
Dr. Sergio Canavero discusses his hopes to perform the world's first head transplant on Russian Valery Spiridonov at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 12, 2015.
© Jay Mallin/ZUMA Press/Corbis

In 2009, Cincinnati Bengals wide-receiver Chris Henry was involved in a tragic automobile accident. The accident left him with such grave injuries that he was pronounced brain-dead at the hospital. As Henry was not signed up to be an organ donor, his mother, Carolyn Henry Glaspy, found herself with the choice of what to do with his organs. Glaspy consented to donate her son's lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas to four different strangers. Her decision saved the lives of several people desperately clinging to life on the transplant list. She even met them after the operations to see how her son lived on through the organ recipients [source: Donate Life North Carolina].

This story, and the many other similar ones out there, is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. How would the emotions change if the conversation wasn't about organ transplants but rather an entire body transplant? What if surgeons were able to place the head of someone with an intact brain onto the body of someone brain-dead like Chris Henry? Would Henry's mother have made the same choice, knowing her son's body was still walking the planet but with another brain controlling it? How would the recipient feel with a totally different body? Would this new person be good at football?

Furthermore, if we're going so far as to swap heads on bodies, where would we stop? What if they attached a woman's head or a child's head? How would this type of operation even work?

Stick with us as we explore the medical and ethical aspects of how human head transplants could work.


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