Parvati in the Laboratory

 

Ganesha is the Hindu god of wisdom and prudence and is depicted with the head of an elephant and the body of a man. He has four arms that carry a shell, a discus, a mace, and a water-lily. By using his massive trunk, he can help to overcome obstacles. He is a threshold deity that protects passages, whether that be physical or metaphorical, and can also contribute to bringing good fortune. In some stories, he gained his elephant head by his mother, Parvati. She asked him to guard her doorway while she took a bath inside, and when Ganesha’s father, Siva came, he barred his father’s entrance. Unfortunately, Siva inadvertently cut off Ganesha’s head during the dispute. Parvati was filled with such remorse from this, that she quickly gifted Ganesha a new head off the next passing creature she saw, which happened to be an elephant. If this had happened and you lived in that village and grew up with Ganesha, would you be disgusted and horrified by his new appearance? Would you question Parvati’s morals and call her selfish, or praise her for saving your friend?

This December, Italian neuroscientist Sergio Canavero will perform the world’s first human head transplant on a patient of his, by splicing the spinal cord completely and rejoining the head to a new, healthy body. Within the spinal cord is a motor highway of neurons that help us move by transmitting information. Sergio believes that with the aid of a special lubricant glue, he can rejoin the severed nerves without them having to be perfectly aligned. Once the procedure is complete, the body is paralyzed completely but only for a temporary amount of time. Eventually, the patient will theoretically regain full mobility and total health. This procedure is recommended for those who suffer a degenerative muscle disease, muscle disorders, tetraplegia, and multiple other disorders. It could allow one to vacate a body riddled with cancer, or simply give someone a forty-year boost. Scientists have tried in decades past to reattach mice and monkey heads, albeit unsuccessfully. This, Sergio believes, is due to the absence of his special lubricant called, Polyethylene Glycol (PEG). PEG is commonly found in many household items such as lotions and printers, and even medications.

Neuroscientists everywhere are remaining skeptical, yet intrigued. This highly controversial procedure will be groundbreaking if it works. I asked my friend Roxanne, a student of neuroscience at the University of Washington her thoughts on all this. She replied, “I’m curious how [Sergio would] handle not only tissues being rejected (spinal cord fluid specifically) but also set neural pathways for all voluntary muscles not matching. Someone would still be able to move everything if it went well, sure, but a pianist may not find the same motor skills in her new hands as in her originals, at least not for a while”.  There may be a lot of questions popping up as the date gets closer, and maybe also protesters trying to stop this “Doctor Frankenstein,” and Dr. Canavero says he is prepared for this. But if his patient fully recovers, this would be a huge accomplishment in not only organ donating, but in the world of medicine and science entirely. And like by a helpful wave from Ganesha’s massive trunk, Doctors and scientists could overcome countless obstacles that have kept them and their patients back.

I can’t help but flashback to the 2008 film, ‘The X Files: I Want to Believe’ when I hear about this kind of thing. That scene when the man’s head is in a bucket of ice awaiting its new body, and as Mulder walks by it, and its eyes pop open, still makes my heart jump! One of the coolest things in life is to see those moments only found in Sci-Fi novels and films, come to life for real; space travel and talking to household computers for information. Sometimes it’s small advances, and sometimes it’s larger ones like reattaching human heads onto healthy donated bodies. The controversy only occurs when we push our limits past what society is used to, and allow for the public to react. Interracial marriage was controversial. Topless men in swimsuits were controversial. Abortion is controversial, and so are many other topics throughout history and still to come. Our mythologies are chock full of part-animals and part-humans, from Egyptian gods to Greek beasts. And yes, even Ganesha. So if it was so normal to believe in the mythologies of human/animal hybrid creatures and deities for centuries, why is it so controversial to believe in a human/human hybrid today, for the benefit of health? If we can donate organs like a heart, why can’t we do the same with a body and save countless lives in the process?

Kansas Stanton

Kansas Stanton is a Naturalistic Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.

He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to law school to receive his Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.

See Kansas’ posts

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4 Comments on “Parvati in the Laboratory

  1. Interesting article! I am perplexed why the doctor is so confident his glue will work. If I’m reading this article right, it sounds like he hasn’t tested his particular glue on animals – is that correct? If so, it seems like there are some major missing steps here.

    BTW, the article’s title does not suggest a science/medicine article at all. I like the Parvati metaphor here, but maybe something that suggests both myth and science would make for a better title?

    • Thank you! And that’s correct, he hasn’t tested this procedure on any known animals and reported it. Which causes lots of red flags! However, he has a patient who has agreed to be his first test.
      The two main opposing points from the opposite side of scientists are: 1.) Once the spinal cord is cut, it immediately develops scar tissue, which prevents it from being effective once reattached. 2.) It’s very likely the body’s immune system will reject the foreign head. Sergio’s opinion is that if America won’t allow it, China will. It’s going to be very interesting as this date approaches. I geared the article more toward information based without much opinion, and how Pagans can relate to this information and what the controversy might mean to us. But I agree, I think it will take Sergio a TON more animal testing and research to accomplish this feat; though I’m not a neuroscientist. And I think the idea itself is radical and groundbreaking.

      And I appreciate your suggestion for the title! I’m big on metaphors, but given there’s various writers here, maybe more literal is better. 🙂

      • And I appreciate your suggestion for the title! I’m big on metaphors, but given there’s various writers here, maybe more literal is better.

        It could also be both metaphor and literal, like: “Parvati in the Laboratory” or “A Real-life Ganesha?” Something like that. 🙂

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