Organ Transplant Issues: A Controversy Over Brain Transplantation

According to The National Kidney Foundation over 121,000 are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant right now. Based on MedicineNet, Organ failure is the dysfunction of an essential system in the human body. Multiple organ failure results in the dysfunction of two or more systems such as the nervous and circulatory systems. Organ failure is a common consequence of sepsis (according to Charles Patrick Davis ‘the existence of bacteria in blood cells’) and shock (which John P. Cunha states is ‘extremely low blood pressure’).

The brain is the most important organ in our body and controls all organs and is the center of the nervous system. According to Jim McMorran and others, acute brain failure also known as delirium is the ‘impairment of cognitive function that is not progressive, but is reversible’. Delirium is most often identifiable by disorders in attention, logical thinking, focus and perception, memory, psychomotor behaviour and one’s sleep wake cycle. Joseph Francis and G Bryan causes include infections, medications, and organ failure. The base bacterial infection or syndrome may not always be a brain problem. Urinary infections or dehydration can spark delirium in many people. The postoperative period is a frequent time for delirium developing mainly in elder people. Delirium can be either hypoactive or hyperactive but some may have both. Hyperactive delirium is a subtype of delirium recognizable by people who have are restless, agitated or over aggressive. Hypoactive delirium is another type of delirium recognizable by victims becoming withdrawn, quiet or sleepy. According to a Jim McMorran and others’ article on brain failure (chronic), dementia is a progressive and normally irreversible syndrome which is identifiable by deterioration in intellectual functionality and personality or behavioural disorders. In many cases some patients positive personality attributes do not diminish, however as the condition progresses memory loss, unawareness, personality disorders such as split personality and self-neglect begin to develop.

Lou Jacobson believes the scientist Robert J. White successfully performed head transplants using monkey heads by isolating, preserving and then freezing the severed to heads to 1 degrees celsius. Although the monkey was mostly paralyzed White states and I quote “It would follow us around the lab with its eyes and almost bit off an investigator's finger”. By drastically decreasing the Monkey’s brain temperature, succeeded in drastically decreasing its oxygen requirements allowing it to last the duration of the operation. The brain could be warmed without suffering any damage. The most major issue they faced was, restoring the spinal cords which they had severed. This left the Monkeys in a state of quadriplegia, the paralysis of all four limbs according to Disabled World. However the main point of the experiment was the ability of being able to successfully attach a severed head to a headless body. According to Mr. Nolan a brain transplant requires the ability to connect nerve fibres from the transplanted brain to the new body’s spine. This is an extremely difficult, delicate and tedious task as spinal damage is normally severe, permanent and irreversible. Even if brain transplants were possible the most massive hurdle is that the identity and personality of the person previously inhabiting the body changing.

Unlike the other organs the brain stores the identity and personality of a person. According to The Viewspaper a brain transplant is the transfer of one’s brain from their original body to another body. The nerve endings from a brain to a new body may not match leading to a complete lack of coordination and control over one’s own body. There is also the inability of the body to heal scarred nerve cells which disrupts the signals being sent through nerves. The key to succeeding in a brain transplant is preserving the identity and personality traits of a person. The brain is an immunologically privileged organ which implies it is capable of independently functioning and can be transplanted. In theory an entirely new species of mankind could develop, supposing there are two bodies, one with a dying brain and healthy body the other with a healthy brain and dying body. After a transplant the healthier brain now controls the healthier body instead of having two dying people. This is following Charles Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest and creates a group of humans, disease free. Helen Thomson suggests one of the major benefits of a brain transplant, is if the brain/head being transplanted is older than the donor body then they may get a boost of youth. Transfusions of young blood into older animals has been proven to have raised their physical endurance and mental capabilities. However the surgery could be mentally and psychologically damaging. Many people may mourn the loss of their old body and feel that their self-image is torn. Inputs from our body such as hunger pangs from our stomach, or our heartbeat have an impact on our emotional wellbeing, power and language. A person’s individuality can drastically change after a brain transplant.

One of the major factors to consider when considering a brain transplant is whether or not it is ethical? In my opinion trading a life for a life is not a humane method to prevent a death. According to Radcliffe Shawn, the massive cost of a brain transplant is between $10 million - $100 million, instead of spending it on one person wouldn’t it be better to use it to help the thousands of people who suffer from spinal cord injuries every year. It is unfair to all those people unable to afford a brain transplant while the rich are able to have their brain transplanted multiple times even theoretically extending their lifespan much beyond that of the average human.

Another issue which arises is whose family the body belongs to, the donor’s or the occupier’s? If the person with a new body has a child would the family of the donor have visitation rights, would they be allowed to help raise the child? It is not fair for the child to be raised without even knowing where 50% of his genes come from and the sacrifice someone made for one of his parents. How will it impact a person to have to live with a body they were not born with? There is no guarantee that someone will be able to accept the new body as part of themselves. In 1998 Clint Hallam underwent the world’s first hand transplant was unhappy with his new organ and had it removed.

The major ethical dilemma for most organ transplants is surgeons and doctors have to put one life at stake to improve or save another’s. In many cases donors are coerced into donations due to a family members or friend’s life at stake. Many people also feel compelled to donate their organs regardless of the impact on themselves, for two parents insisted on donating their lung lobes to their child suffering from respiratory failure. The attempt was unsuccessful and all three people died. I believe that all lives are equally important, no one should have to risk their own to save someone else’s no matter how close they are to one another.

01 February 2021
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