- - Sunday, November 19, 2017

China is thinking big. The Middle Kingdom has already built a small chain of islands in the South China Sea, fortifying them and bids to make them armed fortresses astride the sea lanes connecting Asia to the world. Leaders have to think big, and China obviously wants to replace the United States as the world’s superpower.

Perhaps it wants to be the head of all civilization as well. Chinese surgeons say they have successfully transplanted the first human head to the body of another human, and it didn’t die, if only because both donor and recipient were dead already. The 18-hour operation successfully connected the spine, nerves and blood vessels of one corpse to another, which some surgeons describe as “already quite a feat.”

The operation was done by a team led by Dr. Xiaoping Ren of the Harbin Medical University in China, who earlier successfully grafted a head onto the body of a monkey. Dr. Sergio Canavero, director of a neurosurgery in Italy who has been working with the Chinese team, said they would “imminently” move to perform similar surgery on living humans who are paralyzed from the neck down.

Dr. Canavero declined to identify either the donor or the recipient, though both are known to be Chinese, and the next surgery will match a disease-free head with a healthy body of a brain-dead man. He estimates that the procedure will cost up to $100 million and involve dozens of surgeons.

He describes how surgeons will sever the spinal cords of both donor and recipient with a diamond blade, and to protect the recipient’s brain from immediate death before it is attached to the body it will be cooled to a state of “deep hypothermia.” Both donor and recipient will be kept in a sitting position during the procedure, which will consume 24 hours of severing and reattaching vertebral bones, arteries, veins and the trachea, esophagus and other vital structures in the neck. Machines will breathe for the patients and the recipient will be kept in a drug-induced coma for a recovery time of unspecified length.

Once the recipient recovers — which many specialists doubt will happen — the lawyers will take over. Whose head is it, with all those stored memories, facts, theories and perhaps vast knowledge of valuable facts? The inquiring minds of two sets of children will want to know. We’ll all stay tuned for this one.

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