Crossroads of Humanity

Oct 12, 2013

First Head Transplant Fraught with Dilemmas

In early July 2013, I read a disturbingly fascinating news article: Possibility of First Head Transplant Fraught with Ethical and Medical Dilemmas.

Ethical and medical dilemmas, the article said. Yes, I could see how that would be true. It really got me to thinking. And when I think deep thoughts, I get the urge to write. Thus Dante was created.

Dante is an Italian violinist who believes in the wonders of science. He also believes he is destined for greatness. When he reads about the very real possibility of human head transplants, he just knows he has found his calling:

“Okay, this is getting a little weird,” Natalia said. “I mean, here I am watching you two grin about the possibility of Dante’s death. What’s wrong with us?”

“Nothing, dear cousin. We are merely talking about medical research. Imagine how much we could learn!”

Dante jumped in as well. “Oh, I have wondered about it! I’ve wondered about it a lot actually. I mean, just think of some questions that have plagued humans since the beginning of time. Is there a soul?”

“And if there is,” continued Pietro, “where does it reside, in the heart or the brain?”

“Maybe the soul runs throughout every cell of our being,” Natalia chimed in. “Maybe it runs through our nervous system.”

“Another thing I’ve often wondered about,” Dante cut in, “is muscle memory.”

“What do you mean?” Natalia asked.

“I think I know where he’s going with this,” Pietro said. “May I try to clarify, see if I’m right?”

Dante nodded eagerly. From all the strange looks he’d gotten whenever he tried to discuss any of this, he was glad to finally have an agreeable audience.

“You’re talking about actions that have become so commonplace with an individual, that they’re almost instinctive.”

“Yes, exactly,” Dante said.

“We already know that nerve signals move at an extraordinary rate along synaptic pathways. Little things called dendrites actively pass messages from one to the next until the brain receives the information or until the muscle receiving direction from the brain, does as it’s instructed.”

But a character alone isn't enough. I needed to do a little more research. The article referred to animal experiments. Specifically, it stated that a successful head transplant had been done to a monkey as early as 1970. I went to YouTube and searched for video footage to give me an idea of what that may have been like. I typed in, "Robert White monkey head transplant video" and found this:

Then I wrote about it:

The head surgeon snipped the last thread and stepped back. “Well, that's it. Now we wait.”

For a moment, the only sound was the gentle beep of the heart monitor, the only motion, the rise and fall of the patient’s chest. A grueling 18 hours after they had begun, the surgery was complete, and the team had come farther than anyone ever had before. Beneath the excitement of accomplishment, an underlying current of exhaustion was present on every face: dark circles under eyes, slack expressions and slumped shoulders. Although the chalk marks on the floor that had kept everyone in the right place at the right time no longer mattered, most of the anesthesiologists, lab technicians and nurses remained in their last positions, anxious for the patient to awaken.

A nurse’s gasp drew their attention when the patient opened its eyes.

Sharp teeth snapped at one of the lab techs who quickly stepped back and bumped into a stainless steel tray. Medical instruments crashed to the floor as two other technicians rushed forward to tighten the restraints.

“Damn animal almost took off my finger.” He chuckled nervously.

“He nearly got you,” the surgeon confirmed.

The doctor shone a pen light above the Rhesus monkey's head. A pair of amber eyes followed the beam of light as it moved back and forth across its field of vision. “Optical nerves appear to be functioning correctly.”

He reached to the side and picked up a small dog training device. He pressed the clicker, and the monkey blinked at the sound.

“Hearing is in working order. Nurse?” The surgeon handed her the device, and in turn, she handed him a wooden skewer with a piece of cantaloupe on it. The doctor slowly inserted the sweet cube into the monkey's mouth. The animal sucked on it, chewed it, swallowed, and licked its lips. A comprehensive sigh filled the room.

To learn whether or not Dante really is destined for greatness, check out Dante's Day Off. It will be available for sale as of Thursday, October 17, everywhere ebooks are sold. I will be sure to post links as soon as this short story is available.

Information about S.L. Wallace's other books can be found at her official author website: