Dr. Frankenstein, meet Dr. Ren Xiaoping. The two have more in common than it might appear. While Frankenstein and his monster have been cultural icons for over two centuries, a new type of recreated man may soon overtake them in the polls. Currently, Dr. Xiaoping, a respected but infamous orthopedic surgeon, is moving forward with a plan that has many people getting out their pitchforks and torches.
At its highest level, Dr. Xiaoping wants to help people. No one doubts that. His methods, however, leave many people grappling with ethical issues. For instance, he has already found a number of paralyzed people willing to donate their bodies to his experiments. Included among those is Wang Huanming, a 62-year-old retired gas worker. After a playful wrestling match with a friend, he injured his spine. For the last six years, he has been paralyzed from the neck down. Dr. Xiaoping’s plan is to cut off Huanming’s head and attach it to a newly decapitated body. In order to do this, he plans to connect the blood vessels in Huanming’s head to those in the recipient body. He will then insert a metal stake along the spine, apply some adhesive, and stick the head on.
To many scientists, this sounds more like building a scarecrow than it does saving a man’s life. Researchers from the United States, England, Italy, and Brazil have all come out against the proposed transplant operation. While there are some aspects that are viable, including keeping the head alive during the procedure, the rest is beyond current medical science. In particular, the ability to connect and grow the neurons in the spine has never been successfully demonstrated. Even commentators in China, including Cong Yali at Peking University, are opposed to the idea. He fears the procedure would worsen stereotypes of Chinese doctors. That medical body is still recovering its reputation after having experimented on prisoners for decades, despite international outcry. China has since officially discontinued the practice.
Dr. Xiaoping first came to international attention when he assisted in the world’s first hand transplant surgery. After sixteen years at the University of Louisville and the University of Cincinnati, he returned to Harbin Medical University, in Harbin China, in 2012. Since then, he has assembled a team of specialists to assist him in his plans to conduct the fully body transplant. He admits that he is not close to perfecting the operation. He has been experimenting with head transplants in mice, but none has survived even a day after the operation. Last year, though, he performed a head transplant of a monkey, which survived for 12 hours after the surgery. Despite these setbacks, Dr. Xiaoping is determined to press on. His efforts provide hope for those, like Wang Huanming, who have no better option.