Museum of Hoaxes
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#11: Monkey-Head Transplant
imageWhen Vladimir Demikhov unveiled his two-headed dogs in 1954, it inspired a strange kind of surgical arms race (or rather, head race) between the two superpowers. Eager to prove that its surgeons were actually the best in the world, the American government began funding the work of Robert White, who then embarked on a series of experimental surgeries, performed at his brain research center in Cleveland, Ohio, resulting in the world's first successful monkey-head transplant.

The head transplant occurred on March 14, 1970. It took White and his assistants hours to perform the carefully choreographed operation, separating a monkey's head from its body and reattaching it to a new body. When the monkey woke and found that its body had been switched for a new one, it angrily tracked White with its eyes and snapped at him with its teeth. The monkey survived a day and a half before succumbing to complications from the surgery. As bad as it was for the monkey, it could have been worse. White noted that, from a surgical point of view, it would have been easier to put the monkey's head on backwards.

White thought he should have been treated like a hero, but instead the public was appalled by what he had done. Nevertheless, White soldiered on, campaigning to raise support for a human head transplant. He toured with Craig Vetovitz, a near-quadriplegic, who volunteered to be the first to undergo the procedure. The public is still a long way from accepting the idea of human head transplants, but if White has his way, one day it will happen.

Listed in chronological order. Newest comments at the end.
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How very extrordinary. I went to school with Craig Vetovitz. How amazing to run across a name from the past. I will only say that he suffered a terrible diving accident, leaving him partialy paralyized. Hes a nice guy who didnt deserve any of this.

Posted by Lesley  on  Fri Sep 14, 2007  at  04:38 PM
Considering the number of quadriplegics who die every year of organ failure and other complications unrelated to whatever trauma caused the paralysis, this is a line of experimentation which has the very real possibility of being able to save lives.
Posted by Franklin  on  Sun Sep 16, 2007  at  10:37 PM
From where would you get the spare bodies, though?
Posted by JK  on  Thu Sep 20, 2007  at  04:28 AM
" From where would you get the spare bodies, though? "

Good point.

The only bodies which wouldn't have a head attached that wanted to be transplanted to another working body would be those whose heads/brains were incapable of being re-connected...
Posted by Simple  on  Thu Sep 20, 2007  at  10:40 AM
The source of bodies would presumably be of brain-dead people. Or people who need money.
Posted by John S  on  Sat Sep 22, 2007  at  03:15 AM
Considering the current global bru-haha over organs for transplants, those two options you provide, specially the latter, makes me even more queasy at the prospect of this technique ever becoming available. How many people will be wrongfully declared brain dead, or worse, killed "because their family needed the money"?

This one is a prime example of "just because we can, doesn't mean we should".
Posted by JK  on  Sat Sep 22, 2007  at  07:40 PM
"From where would you get the spare bodies, though?"

from the brain dead, like Terri Schiavo. I know if I were in a persistent vegetative state, I'd want my body used for this.
Posted by guy  on  Mon Sep 24, 2007  at  01:35 AM
Why is the term "head transplant" or "brain transplant" so often used, when what we're really talking about is a body transplant? It is the person - the "I" - that get a new body, of course.
Posted by eovti  in  Sandefjord, Norway  on  Fri Sep 28, 2007  at  02:16 PM
talking 'bout existentialism eh
Posted by ade  on  Mon Nov 12, 2007  at  03:30 AM
It's been found by a few people who get transplants, that some physical and even some mental aspects of the transplant's previous owner sometimes gets transferred to the new owner. For example, some transplant recipients report that they start wanting certain kinds of food they never liked before, but which the donor liked. Less commonly, actual (but I presume somewhat blurry) ideas and "memories" occur to a few heart transplant recipients who don't recognize those memories as their own. There's a valid reason for this: the heart contains a lot of neurons, nearly or actually identical to some found in the brain, that actually store forms of "memories" useful to the heart.
Posted by John S  on  Mon Nov 12, 2007  at  06:20 PM
I know lots of people that could benefit from a head transplant.....but who would the living rights go to? The head or the body?
Posted by headless horseman  on  Wed Nov 14, 2007  at  05:51 PM
I know lots of people who would benefit from a monkey head transplant, for that matter.
Posted by John S  on  Thu Nov 15, 2007  at  01:20 AM
i think this is a frankenstien operation it wont work God would not allow such abomanations to take place the patient would certainly die due to complications where would the donors be??? i wouldnt want my body used in such experiments
and the monkey for Gods sake lets show some respect for his creations. not letting them suffer in such agony. i think dr. white is a lunatic that needs a head transplant and get a taste of his "brillant" medicine
Posted by tammy  on  Mon Nov 19, 2007  at  12:26 PM
"i think dr. white is a lunatic that needs a head transplant and get a taste of his "brillant" medicine"

Well, that's certainly a Christian thing to say.

Assuming there's a God that "wouldn't allow" something like this, what part wouldn't God allow? Transplanting human heads onto human bodies, or transplanting monkey heads onto human bodies (or vice versa)? The comments about transplants between monkeys and humans were just a joke, but I do agree with your comment about experimenting on monkeys who don't deserve it.

You have a right not to want your body used in experiments like this, but other people have the right to will their body to science. I don't think that's disrespectful.
Posted by John Sawyer  on  Mon Nov 19, 2007  at  02:18 PM
I recall reading about this in a magazine back in 1970 (yes, I was a precocious, and weird, child).

I can't really see the concept of human head transplants being workable in the foreseeable future. It's hard not to start nominating people I think might benefit from one, though.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Thu Nov 29, 2007  at  04:32 PM
I remember watching a documentary on Robert White ages ago

It portrayed him as quite weird/scary and his experiments as dead-ends which hadn't made any real progress since the monkey head transplant

Wonder how much truth there was in it
Posted by spikyface  on  Sat Dec 01, 2007  at  10:27 PM
"From where would you get the spare bodies, though?"

ever heard of cloning?
Posted by the earth is flat  on  Wed Jan 02, 2008  at  09:15 PM
I am just concerned about getting last years model (body). If people really had a choice of which body they would get, do you think that a man of means (Say Donald Trump or 50 Cent) would be satisfied with an overweight and slightly balding model. Or would he hold out for that 20 something, testosarone pumping body that wouldnt have the need for viagra? Seariously though, this is an intruging prospect that has many ramifactions. Who is to say that you even need a body anyway? I mean if you are dying of lung cancer or any other dease, why not just drain your blood into a machine and have your head transplanted to the top of it? That way you could be around for Dick Clarks new years ball drop in 2075. Dick will be there. Will you?
Posted by pbj  on  Thu Jan 03, 2008  at  09:44 PM
Why is that society isn't more pragmatic. We are so afraid of ourselves. Research and science has a lot more to offer if we are willing. I guess I'm a bit crazy, but I think we are very closed minded and just plain stupid.

Body transplants... first off multiple organ transplants are very commen. It is only a small stretch to the entire body. In-fact the research done already with organ transplants could virtually guarantee success.

So where do you get the bodies? Brain-dead bodies would be the most prolific source. The next would be brain related diseases and tramaus such as stroke, and cancer fatalaties.

Again I would be aggressive in the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge and experience are the only source of peace in this world, unfortunattley.

Meta-physically speaking, faith, friends and society are nice to rely on. But all of these things are limited by it's intelligence. How can society have intelligence? Groups and their members are an organization. Very similar to living entity. As such they have a body of knowledge and a learning rate.

The rules and behaviors of a group of people are determined by a right and wrong. The members all agree implicedly. The motivation of the members are the benefit from the leverage tthe group can exert. I'm sure I'm not the first to observe the behavior of groups as a living body. Now that I think about 2000 years ago ssomewhere in the mediterean, a man named Paul observed this. Remember, in this world nothing has the complete truth. Knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge is the faith I have. Lastly God and faith do have a role. But again, religous institues must be ccareful and understand it does not possess the Truth. The falibility of man is legendary.
Posted by Derek  on  Sat Jan 05, 2008  at  02:09 PM
one option for viable bodies to receive the transplanted heads that has yet to be discussed would be not only the brain dead or the clinically insane but there are plenty of unfortunate suicidal people that may sign up for the surgery.
Posted by zachary  on  Sat Feb 23, 2008  at  09:48 PM
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