“The Undertaking Still Bordered On Science Fiction”

So, this is an interesting find, to say the least. I was looking for something completely different and stumbled across “The Dead Body and the Living Brain,” a 1967 Look magazine article by Oriana Fallaci about pioneering head transplant experimentation. (Unfortunately, the PDF file has the pages sideways and out of sequential order.) In the piece, Fallaci reports on the sci-fi-ish experiments that Prof. Robert White was doing with rhesus monkeys at a time when consciousness about animal rights was on the rise. White’s unusual work continued until his death in 2010. The opening:

“Libby had eaten her last meal the night before: orange, banana, monkey chow. While eating she had observed us with curiosity. Her hands resembled the hands of a newly born child, her face seemed almost human. Perhaps because of her eyes. They were so sad, so defenseless. We had called her Libby because Dr. Maurice Albin, the anesthetist, had told us she had no name, we could give her the name we liked best, and because she accepted it immediately. You said ‘Libby!’ and she jumped, then she leaned her head on her shoulder. Dr. Albin had also told us that Libby had been born in India and was almost three years, an age comparable to that of a seven-year-old girl. The rhesuses live 30 years and she was a rhesus. Prof. Robert White uses the rhesus because they are not expensive; they cost between $80 and $100. Chimpanzees, larger and easier to experiment with, cost up to $2,000 each. After the meal, a veterinarian had come, and with as much ceremony as they use for the condemned, he had checked to be sure Libby was in good health. It would be a difficult operation and her body should function as perfectly as a rocket going to the moon. A hundred times before, the experiment had ended in failure, and though Professor White became the first man in the entire history of medicine to succeed, the undertaking still bordered on science fiction. Libby was about to die in order to demonstrate that her brain could live isolated from her body and that, so isolated, it could still think.”

More Oriana Fallaci posts:


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