Three years ago, Canavero, now 51, had his own Dr. Strange moment when he announced he’d be able to do a human head transplant in a two-part procedure he dubs HEAVEN (head anastomosis venture) and Gemini (the subsequent spinal cord fusion). Valery Spiridonov, a 31-year-old Russian program manager in the software development field, soon emerged from the internet ether to volunteer his noggin. He suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a muscle-wasting disorder, and is desperate. Canavero likens Spiridonov’s willingness to venture into a new medical frontier to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s bold resolution to become the first human to travel to space, back in 1961.
But many dismiss Canavero’s plans as fantasy. And if he has a comic book-like nemesis—or maybe he’s the hero here?—it is Arthur Caplan, founder of the Division of Bioethics at New York University’s School of Medicine. “I think he’s a charlatan, a quack and a self-promoter,” says Caplan, who also labels Canavero a “Looney Tune” who’s “peddling false hope.” Those judging Canavero generally assign him to one of two categories: either an outlandish Dr. Frankenstein seeking fame without regard for risk or an innovator willing to try what others consider impossible.
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