Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Brain transplants...

The other day, in the bathtub, I was thinking about how different the world would be if doctors could transplant the human brain. Imagine that you’re an average guy in his mid-30s. You’re walking down the street, not bothering anyone, when suddenly a Cadillac Escalade hops the curb and–splat!--you’re crushed between its grill and the nearest building. Miraculously, your head is undamaged by all this and–since you’ve signed a form in your doctor’s office a few years ago–the ambulance whisks it to the hospital, where a crack team of neurosurgeons split open your skull, scoop out your brains, attach them to a fancy car-battery like device that keeps the neurons firing, and stick the whole thing in a freezer. A few days pass, and then a teenage girl suffers a freak aneurysm and dies while doing her homework. Now, since she signed a similar form to you during her last check-up and since keen computerized databases have matched you two, her body is brought by helicopter to the same hospital. Once the crack neurosurgeons are assembled, they go to work stuffing your brain into the teenaged girl’s body. After several hours, they give you a little electrical shock and you’re jolted awake. But what are you now? Are you a teenage girl? When someone looks at you, they certainly see a teenage girl. But you’ve been to college, you’re married, and you have a daughter of your own. What happens now? Do you go through life as a teenage girl, or as a 30-something year old man who just happens to resemble a teenage girl? Do you go back to your high-paying, professional job, knowing that your employees will have a hard time respecting the authority of a sixteen year old? And won’t the parents of the teenager want to continue being the parents of the teenager, heedless of the fact that their teenager is now a middle-aged middle-manager? And what does this do to the man’s love-life? Does he initiate a lesbian relationship with his wife? What if his wife doesn’t find this appealing? Even if she does, wouldn’t this be technically illegal, since her “husband” is only sixteen years old? It seems that the laws would have to be changed to allow this. But would the man-in-the-teenager’s-body have to wait until he was eighteen to vote? Would he have to re-take his driver’s test? And menstruation, wouldn’t menstruation freak him out? And how would he handle suddenly being hit on by acne-ridden boys at the mall? And even though I call him a “he”, isn’t “he” more of a “she” now?

Someday science might advance to the point where we have this capability. I think it would be best if we hammered all these questions out beforehand. To date, only really bad movies like “Freaky Friday” have tried to address the issue, and I can’t help but feel that their take on the subject is wholly superficial.