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Off with his head!

By Russell Grenning - posted Friday, 5 January 2018


There is undoubtedly something very definite and final about beheading. Or is there?

King Charles 1 was the only English monarch to have his head chopped off, after being found guilty of treason by the republican Cromwell regime in January, 1649 and, after his head was severed, it was actually sewn back on to his body prior to his burial. Presumably, those who had sent him to meet his Maker wanted him to look his best, all things considered.

Whether it was for religious or just cosmetic reasons, there wasn't any suggestion that a quick stitch-up would somehow magically bring Charles back to life.

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Yet, beheading and re-attaching a head is now all the talk of modern medical science although, to be fair, the actual term "beheading" is not actually used. We are far, far too sensitive and politically correct for that nowadays. Rather than consigning some reprobate and his wonderful body to the fiery pits of Hell, beheading is now being considered to be a potential life-saving or, at least, a life-enhancing procedure for a virtuous but physically challenged recipient.

Yes, nowadays medical science – well, the outer reaches of medical science – are considering what is fairly delicately being referred to as a "head transplant".

Late last year, Italian neurosurgeon, Professor Sergio Canavero, announced that he and a Chinese collaborator Dr Xiaoping Ren performed the first successful head transplant in a Chinese Medical University. While this might be seen as tremendously exciting there was a small but not insignificant problem – both the head donor and the head recipient were actually already dead. However, the intrepid medicos claimed that they had reconnected the spinal cord, nerves and blood vessels of the donor head and headless recipient. They have previously claimed to have performed successful head transplants on a monkey and numerous rodents.

"The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done," Professor Canavero announced in China. "A full head swap between brain dead organ donors is the next stage. And that is the final step for the formal head transplant which is imminent."

He has called his project – which he has been working on since 1982 – "Heaven" for Head Anastomosis Venture which is probably better and more encouraging than "Hell", for Head Experiment Laudable Legend".

Professor Canavero is not at all dismayed or depressed by the unanimous rejection of his claims by the medical establishment. After all, the history of medical science is littered with stories about how breakthrough discoveries were initially rejected but then accepted. One horrible example is that of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis who was working in a Viennese maternity hospital in the mid 19th century and who argued that antiseptic handwashing by surgeons and other hospital staff who dealt with patients would cut down the risk of cross-infection. Not only was he ridiculed, he was sacked, forcibly admitted to an insane asylum and so badly beaten he died after two weeks.

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I'm not one to scoff at Professor Canavero. After all, he might be on to something.

If this procedure proves to be viable, I will be lining up to get a new body myself. Mind you, the body that currently supports my head has served me pretty well for nearly seven decades but I'm the first to admit that it has gone somewhat downhill since about 1975. While most of it still performs more or less as it should, it's not the trim, taut and terrific body that it once was. I still get admiring glances but, I suspect, this attention to due more to my razor-sharp wit, my endearing modesty and my warm humanity. My once six-pack torso is now more like a crate of beer.

So what I will require is the body of a superbly fit iron man. Now this means the iron man will necessarily be brain dead and no longer requiring his otherwise perfectly good body. It's just that I would be putting it to better use than consigning it to a funeral home. In fact, I'm even prepared to go to China for this little operation although I suspect there is a marked shortage of sun bronzed, superbly fit and athletically accomplished Caucasian young chaps there. I mean it would hardly be worth the effort to have my head attached to your typical Chinese peasant's body would it? I have nothing but admiration for the Chinese but my head is distinctively Caucasian so I need a body to match.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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