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Of Science and Relevance, Dr. Frankenstein!

Frankenstein

UMU welcomes back contributor Matt Ramos.  When we last left off with him, he was busy thinking about Universal’s Wolf Man in “A Love Song for the Wolf Man.”  Here he explores some weird science and of its relationship to the classic monster, Frankenstein.

We hear it all the time, art imitates life. Maybe there’s truth to that but what about literature? Do you consider literature art? I’ve read my share of books; some better than others. My fair share of reading was done during high school with the required high school reading lists, ranging from science fiction to poems. Then in college one of the familiar titles returned…

91exlA1Ty-L._SL1500_“Frankenstein.” To be specific Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” I was taking a science fiction class and once the overall ignorance of know it all arrogance passed I really delved into the class and enjoyed myself. Our class was the first of the day and often times we’d watch Frankenstein movies – a great way to start your day if you ask me. Over the course of the class we got around to watching Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Robert DeNiro. Great movie. After weeks of watching Frankenstein movies, one after another, one begins to think can any of this be done in real life?

In short, yes. But to a degree. While science may not have gotten to the advancement of being able to reanimate the deceased, science, nonetheless, has gotten to the point where we can transplant parts including organs and faces from one to another. We’re all familiar with liver and kidney transplants but how far can it go? Can we transplant a head onto another body? In short…

Yes. But we haven’t been successful with human trials. Not at least that I can find, though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried it and kept it under wraps. If you could transplant any one body part from one organism to another would you, and what would you transplant? Would you go as far as allowing your head to be transplanted onto another body? One such doctor is embarking on that very task.

Meet Dr. Sergio Canavero. An Italian neuroscientist who is ready to remove the head of one patient and transplant it onto another body. Why is this patient willing to risk their life for what seems to many people nothing more than science fiction? Well now meet Russian man Valery Spiridinov, who is afflicted by Werdnig Horrman disease; a disease that wastes muscle condition and often times leaves sufferers in wheelchairs with smaller, weaker framed bodies.

Frankenstein

Dr. Sergio Canavero at a TEDx Talk.

Dr. Canavero is confident and says that the procedure is “…90%” guaranteed to succeed but did confess, “of course there is a marginal risk. I cannot deny that.”. What to say about this? On the plus side there are numerous advantages to undergoing such an extreme procedure besides the obvious cases such as Mr. Spiridinov. Consider patients suffering from cancer or HIV, would they risk their lives on one procedure? Many people who has HIV live long successful and happy lives with the proper medical treatment and healthy lifestyle as do many cancer patients, we also cannot ignore that some cancers are very treatable.

On a financial note how would this be handled? Is it considered plastic surgery? Would this be seen as cosmetic? If the ensuing illness is not life threatening then some can make the argument that it is unnecessary and vain. To that I respond with: orthodontic braces. We do not need perfectly straight pearly white teeth to live a happy and successful life but every year millions of teens are put through painful and stressful sometimes embarrassing times in their life so that they may have the perfect smile. Teeth whitening can cost $500 per session which is not covered by most insurances as it is considered cosmetic. Isn’t it about time that we stop judging each other and allow one another to make the decisions they see fit to live a happier life as long as there is no malicious action taken to hurt others in the process?

1430860360053174As an animal lover I have a love-hate relationship with modern science. While I am thankful that we have the medical treatments that we have and the medications as well, I am repulsed by any form of animal experimentation. One such surgeon is Vladimir Demikhov. He is responsible for transplanting the heads of dogs and here’s a macabre fun fact, the MTV 2 logo is taken from his two headed dog experiments. While he may be considered a genius by some due to being the first to create an artificial heart in 1937, of course this being Dr. Demikhov, it was transplanted into a dog. He is also responsible for the world’s first liver transplant and lung transplant. With so many public offenders incarcerated why does man insist on using animals for their experiments?

Dr. Robert White was another surgeon who used animals to bring to life his idea of head grafting, this time opting for monkeys as opposed to Dr. Demikhov’s use of dogs. Dr. White was successful in that his patients survived albeit for a short time. His operation involved severing the spine so his monkeys were paralyzed but nonetheless were still able to breathe, hear, smell, taste, eat and follow objects with their eyes. As if if weren’t enough for the monkeys to live this way for 9 days he had intentions of performing the procedure on humans, having practiced on corpses. Since this was during the 1990’s people to some degree were hopeful that he would be able to transplant the heads of Dr. Stephen Hawking and real life Superman, Christopher Reeve.

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Everything comes full circle. Dr. White was inspired by Dr. Demikhov, and Dr. Canavero is inspired by Dr. White. I cannot deny that in theory it is very interesting and if the shoe were on another foot who is to say that I wouldn’t consider head transplantation should I need a new body. But wouldn’t that lead to more questions, what is a “need” for a new body? Being out of shape? Having asthma? Not being the preferred race? How far does the rabbit hole go and at what point is the to be grafted head considered dead? In order for the head to be grafted onto another body it has to be decapitated, thus killing the head/body. Would that then, be considered reanimating the dead should the procedure be a success? What about immortality? Couldn’t we transplant one head onto another when the accepting body ages? This is a case of ethics, not so much science fiction lovers, but aren’t these doctors real life Frankensteins’?

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)We’ve seen our favorite reanimated buddy depicted on screen in many variations but one of the time honored favorites would have to be Universal Pictures Frankenstein with Boris Karloff as the monster. He was stoic, mysterious and intimidating but also welcoming and gentle. With Universal rebooting all of the classic monsters one has to ask how will Frankie be played out? In this day and age with multiple surgeons carrying out their own experiments on dog, monkey and man isn’t it only a matter of time before the story of Frankenstein becomes common news?

Boris is iconic and unforgettable as the monster but if modern science has shown us anything it’s that these surgical operations are less likely to be flat headed green skinned giants and more likely to be everyday looking people. (Sorry Jack Pierce) Of course the one thing that today’s Dr. Frankensteins have over the fictitious ones is they aren’t stealing limbs from graveyards.

How do you feel about it? Would you rather see a Frankenstein creation on screen, or next door as a neighbor?

(Matt Ramos – @SuperSERUMComix)

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