There’s been lots of coverage in the last day for the proposed first human head transplant, which an Italian surgeon thinks he could perform in 2017. Now, I know next to nothing about the medical aspects of it and if it’s even remotely possible, but I do wonder about the term ‘head transplant’.
For me, the term transplant refers to the part that’s being replaced from the perspective of the individual receiving the surgery. So if I was to have a heart transplant, I’d receive a new heart, for a kidney transplant I’d receive a new kidney etc
So, for a ‘head transplant’ to take place, I’d have to receive a new head. The question is, assuming we’re talking about a whole head (brain include), could I receive a new head and still be me? If my head was taken off and replaced with someone else’s, would the resulting creation be me, or the person who supplied the head? Likewise, if my head was then put onto their body, would what resulted be me or them?
It seems to me that while it doesn’t make for as dramatic a headline, what we really ought to be referring to here is body transplants, as the person that results from the surgery would surely be regarded as the individual who provided the head, not the one who provided the body. In the same way that I remain me if I’ve given a heart transplant, and am not regarded as the person who donated the heart, surely the same must apply for this sort of transplant, and we should be referring to it as a body transplant, not a head transplant?
(And yes, there are all sorts of further issues about your head being linked to someone else’s body, but for now I’ll leave those to the real philosophers and psychologists)