Can We Have HEAVEN On Earth?

I saw this item in the AMA MorningRounds about how an Italian neuroscientist has worked out a way to perform a human head transplant, HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI) Canavero S – Surg Neurol Int.

Dr. Sergio Carnavero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, judging from a quick scan of the free and open access paper, truly seems to think we can have HEAVEN on earth.

ThingWithTwoHeadsPosterFrankly, I didn’t read the paper very closely. I got stuck in a memory of an extremely bad movie made in 1972 with Ray Milland (who could do nothing to save it), “The Thing with Two Heads”. Roosevelt Grier co-starred and Ray Milland played a character whose head was kept alive without his body and he was begging for one. I remember one line, “Get me a body!” I didn’t bother watching the rest of the film.

Guy goes into a bar and sees his psychiatrist there. He sits down and tells him, “Doc, I’ve been feeling just awful since my THR (total head replacement).”

His psychiatrist says “Hmmmm…so you’re having body image problems?”

OK, I know I should be taking this more seriously; hey we’re doing face transplants now. And doing total heads could be a major breakthrough for psychiatrists. It’s a cure, potentially, for almost any mental illness. Hey, just replace the head. In fact, if you’re dissatisfied with any part of your body, you could have your head reattached to another one.

Morning News Show Segment: “So, Mrs. Jones, thank you for being here on our show to talk about your recent head transplant. I understand you were very unhappy with your previous body’s fallen arches?”

“Oh yes; but I’m still not sure that reattaching me to an aardvark was the answer.”

“And now let’s hear this word from our sponsor…”

Would a psychiatrist be involved in pre-head transplant candidate evaluations?

Transplant surgeon to transplant psychiatrist: “I’d like you to assess the patient’s competency to consent to the total head transplant, please.”

Transplant psychiatrist: We don’t do “competency” evaluations, courts do that. We assist doctors with decisional capacity assessments, which most physicians are capable of doing themselves.”

Transplant surgeon: “OK, fine; can we do a decisional capacity assessment of this candidate for a total head?”

Transplant psychiatrist: I don’t know. Have you explained the risks and benefits, like Post Head Transplant Hat Size Bereavement (PHTHSB)?”

Can we fix the problem with poor access to evidence-based psychotherapy by just switching heads?

“Oh yeah, I had a real fixation on living room furniture reorganization until I got my total head. It drove my kids crazy.”

“So things are better now you’re attached to a two-toed sloth?”

“Getting up from TV shows to get snacks is hard. I missed all of “Columbo.”

Just think how much easier yoga could be by transplanting your head to a more supple body.

“Now I can do the lotus position and I can meditate much more deeply.”

“Sure, now could you put your smartphone away please, so the rest of us can reach nirvana?”

And does this give a whole new meaning to the old which-body-part-is-the-boss joke?

When the body was first made, all the parts wanted to be Boss….

The brain said. “I should be Boss because I control the whole body’s responses and functions.” The feet said, “We should be Boss as we carry the brain about and get him to where he wants to go.” the hands said, “We should be the Boss because we do all the work and earn all the money.”

And so it went on and on with the heart, the lungs and the eyes, until finally the asshole spoke up. All the parts laughed at the idea of asshole being the Boss. So the asshole went on strike, blocked itself up and refused to work. Within a short time, the eyes became crossed, the hands clenched, the feet twitched, the heart and lungs began to panic and the brain fevered. Eventually, they all decided that the asshole should be the Boss, so the motion was passed. All the others parts did all the work while the Boss just sat and passed out the shit.

Moral of the story…..

You don’t need brains to be a Boss….any asshole will do!

Until the head just gets transplanted to a new asshole.


Author: Jim Amos

Dr. James J. Amos is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the UI Carver College of Medicine at The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. Dr. Amos received a B. S. degree in Distributed Studies (Zoology, Chemistry, and Microbiology) in 1985 from Iowa State University and an M.D. from The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa in 1992. He completed his psychiatry residency, including a year as Chief Resident, in 1996 at the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Iowa. He has co-edited a practical book about consultation psychiatry with Dr. Robert G. Robinson entitled Psychosomatic Medicine: An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. As a clinician educator, among Dr. Amos’s most treasured achievements is the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.

2 thoughts on “Can We Have HEAVEN On Earth?”

  1. Really funny post!
    One thought I had is that if you leave aside the question of the feasibility of attaching a head to a new body, it basically comes down to a variation of “Who’s the boss?”, in all honesty, a serious question. Namely, that we associate our identities with our brains, or minds, or heads or whatever (I tend to think of mind as a function of brain), and not with the rest of our bodies.
    So if you take your own head and place it on an aardvark’s body, you’re still you, just with a different body and tolerance for sun exposure.
    And maybe you could have body donors-think 20 year old swimsuit model with her head smashed in a car accident. But you wouldn’t have head donors, because if your body got someone else’s head, you wouldn’t be you anymore.
    And for all the truth about the asshole being the boss, we think of our bodies as belonging to us, not as being us.


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