I’m all for a bit of propellorheadedness, but sometimes even I go, ‘Whoa! Steady on here!’
Some mole has leaked to the journal MIT Technology Review some reports from a closed meeting of the US National Institutes of Health. I’m not too surprised that the NIH were trying to keep this under their hats. That might not be a particularly appropriate turn of phrase, come to think of it.
Researchers, led by a Yale neuroscientist, Professor Nenad Sestan, claim to have revived the brains of pigs in heads recovered from an abattoir. They kept them alive for up to 36 hours. I suspect you will share with me some profound doubts about the ethics of this.
The team also claim that EEG readings suggest that the brains were not conscious, but more in a state similar to a coma. But if that is the case, how can they also say the treatment allowed billions of brain cells to start working again? How do they know that? ‘That animal brain is not aware of anything. I am confident about that.’ I just hope you’re right, Nenad. Because if you’re wrong, it’s a living hell on earth, isn’t it?
Professor Sestan refuses to talk about his research, and you don’t have to be a genius to work out why that might be, not least being the distinct possibility of getting his house firebombed by those fuckwits at PETA* who value the lives of all animals except humans. He has signed, however, an open letter to Nature on the ethics of brain research, and the challenges to our understanding of life and death.
Sir Colin Blakemore, no less, pointed out the obvious. ‘The paradox is, the more successful these techniques are in maintaining the nervous system, the more useful they are in research – but the closer we get to worrying that these brains are maintaining a higher function.’
That’s one way of putting it. If you’re a pig, and your last memory is of being scared shitless in an abattoir, it’s not something you want to relive, is it? Similarly, if I ended up decapitated in an accident, I don’t want to have to go through that experience over and over when I wake up in a jar. That really would freak you out, wouldn’t it?
This sort of takes us back to my earlier blog about the (spurious) claims about the possibility of head transplants. Seems to me this is another very clear case of ‘Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.’
No good will come of it, mark my words.
*I might even be slightly on their side here.