Unwind: How to transplant every part of you for the greater good
The novel Unwind, but Neal Shusterman, details human organ trafficking taken to the extreme. I am still in the middle of reading this Young Adult Novel, but the premise drew me in. In the novel, abortion is illegal. This spawns thousands of state run orphanages. The catch is this: between the ages of 13 and 18, a child may be “unwound”, or broken into various body parts for transplant. This is legal because every part of the person is still alive.
Shusterman may have gotten the idea from a 2006 BBC article on Ukranian hospitals trafficking in baby parts. The article states that live babies were harveted for their stem cells. One quote says: “The pictures show organs, including brains, have been stripped – and some bodies dismembered.”
Shusterman aptly explores this with various people who use the unwound children for limb transplants. New hands, legs…the sky’s the limit. Now this is all this fiction, right? Not really. Recent sucesses with hand transplants (yes hand transplants) have expanded the possibilities. In 2006, David Savage received a sucessful hand transplant. His brain quickly adapted to the new limb. By 2008, the Jewish Hospital Hand Care Center had performed its fifth hand transplant. This is no longer a fluke, but actual science fiction in action.
Shusterman also explores the effects of brain transplants. In Unwind, most people receive only pieces of brains. But one character, Cy, gets a full eighth of a brain. This results in him getting flashes of the donor’s persona leaking through. Again, how much of this is possible? Hard to say. But there has been a sucessful head transplant.
If you’re me, this brings two movies immediately to mind: The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, and The Thing with Two Heads. Both are classics of cheesy low-budget sci-fi. Now this ficiton might be a reality. In 2001 professor Robert White transplanted a whole monkey’s head onto another monkey body, and the animal survived. Now, it’s not as good as you think. The nerves weren’t reattached (if we could, we’d help out every parapalegic on the planet). No, this just had the brain living from the blood of the other body.
Still, the advances in just the last few years make the possibility of Shusterman’s book valid. We might be looking at unwinding people just for their body parts. And why waste any parts. Let’s transplant it all: heart, lungs, fingernails, brain, tongue, you name it.