Ethical Implications of Brain Transplant


With the growing emphasis of organs transplant to cure most of the chronic diseases and organ failures, brain transplant has attracted more attention, not because of complexities of the process, but its ethical implications. The main question that befalls the issue is an ethical justification for the transplant and its effects on the receiver. The rapid developments in science have proved that nothing is impossible, its matter of time and changes in technology. The line between the transplant and implantations is becoming less sharp.What would happen when a new body is grafted into someone’s head is still unknown by the current science. But research indicates that such a risky surgical practice posses ethical mysteries such as its effect on the identity and the personality of the new being. This paper will provide a literature review on ethical implication and mysteries of a brain transplant. This study is significant as it will explore the ethical issues behind brain transplant.

Brain transplant results in personality change. One of the differences in brain transplant from all other types of transplant is that it creates a different person. According to research done by Tyson P. on the future of brain transplants, the study found out that the host body simply provided life support for the transplanted head or brain. There was no neurological connection between the brain and the body, leading to the creation of a new personality where the brain was not the master of the body (Tyson,  2010). This is a deviation from the main aim of transplant, which was not to create a deferent person but to maintain the personality while providing a medical solution to the problem. The study criticizes an observation after a motorcycle accident that leaves Jane’s brain dead but the body intact while  John’s brain was fine though the body is mangled beyond repair. After John’s brain is transplanted to Jane’s body, what results is a different person from Jane, as the memories and consciousness are that of John. Because the brain is the seat of intelligence, John’s brain tries to map itself into Jane’s body, the possibility of this would be a different person with completely different sets of movements and mannerism, not similar to John or even 5.John.Therefore according to Tyson, brain transplant would result in an individual with a different personality, and altering the personality of the receiver is unethical in medical practice (Tyson, 2010).

Besides, research by  Gillon R.Brain, on brain transplantation, personal identity, and medical ethics found out that brain transplant results in the creation of a new identity which is against medical ethics. The study looks into a case of transplanting a living brain from a dead body (Susan)  and implanting it into someone’s skull (George).  The implication of this would be  Susan surviving through uncomfortable new guise., for the memories and intelligence is Susan’s but people see George. If this transplant were technically possible, this scenario would have medico-moral implications (Gillon, 1996). The ethical play that would result from this transplant would be confusion and distress of the dead person who knows would be living in another.

Tyson asserts that this would lead to distress about personal identity. This is because identity is based on previous experiences in life, as well as the body. There would be a crash, therefore, resulting in two different identities, of body and brain resulting in an ethical problem. This is because it creates a person, who everyone believes is him/her apart from them. A brain transplant would, therefore, create an individual whose body and brain and body do not connect completely. It would, therefore, lead to a feeling that one is being invaded, and partly controlled by another person other than self (Gillon, 1996). The research also indicates that other than confusion about identity, brain transplant would result in compromising the autonomy of self, by instilling two self –aware consciousness.

In the study about functional brain transplants,  Perlow indicates that the concept of giving somebody a new body is not ethical. According to this research, a brain transplant is unethical in the first place, not only because of what it results to but the implied intention. Head transplant involves taking a person ( one’s brain) and insulting that person into another. It is merging two individuals. Perslow gives an example of a transplant of brain form a 60-year-old donor into a young receiver, that would be creating an old person in a young person. It would, therefore, result in a young individual with 60-year memories and experience! It is also hard to determine under what circumstances it would be ethical to give someone a new brain from someone else. It is establishing medical justifications that institute a brain transplant or even growth if difficult. Also, growing human brain or even apart of it in the laboratory for transplant is complex (Perlow, 1980).

To establish whether personality changes as result of fetal tissue transplantation in the brain, Cynthia McRae, Eva Cherin, Gretchen Diem, Alexander Elligring and Curt freed among others conducted a study using placebo surgery and fetal transplant. In this investigation, 12 persons received a transplant, and 18 received placebo surgery. The NEO  Five-Factor Inventory test was administered to measure personality. The study found out that personality was greatly affected by transplant as compared to the surgery. The implication appears to affect major components of personality. The patients who underwent placebo of this is that the lesions induced by brain penetration and needle tracks during surgery did not surgery had stable consciousness and their NEO Five-Factor measure was normal, not adversely affected (McRae, Cherin, Diem, et al., 2003). However, there was a drastic change resulting from the brain implantation . These results indicate that brain implantation negatively affects the personality of the individual.

According to publication by Express titled ‘Neurosurgeon plans to bring deceased BACK TO LIFE  with pioneering BRAIN TRANSPLANT,”. The neurosurgeon indicated that dead bodies who have cryogenically frozen could be brought back to life within three years. The neurosurgeon, Professor Sergio Canavero, his team has been making massive progress in ensuring that they successfully conduct a head transplant.theprofessor indicates that their main challenge in experimenting is reconnecting brain to the severed spinal column, to control movement and sensation  (Logan,  2017).Although the professor indicated that he plans to restore the connection are underway the ethical implication of the transplant still erupts, with the possibility of the patient being aware of his real identity, personality and previous experiences being unknown.

However, from a case study on culture, brain transplants and Implicit theories conducted by Mahalingam R. Rodriguez found out that both Americans and Indians believe that social identity would not be changed by brain transplant (Rodriguez, 2006). The aspects of social identity used in this study included the caste, race or ethnicity. This case study was conducted among 202 Indian ( Brahmins and Dalits) and 114 American participants. The participants were provided with a vignette about hypothesized brain transport between members of two different groups and asked questions relating to how brain transplant affects culture and ethnicity. The Brahmins believed that a brain transplant would not make Dalit act like Brahmins, while Brahmins who received brain transplant from a Dalit would act like Dalit (Rodriguez, 2006).

According to a study by Neurochi Z  on the identity of the personality and personal identity brain transplants and implants fail in ethics. Some of the brain implants that are aimed at control the tremor in patients with tremor induces some other decreases such as Parkinson’s disease (Neurochir, 1995). According to this study, the transplant can be done from artificial organs or even human organs. Although some of the artificial organs for art transplant can solve donor related problems, they also pose ethical problems that need to be considered too. Therefore brain transplant results in implant ethics due to the introduction of technological devices into the human body. A systemic analysis of implant ethics is necessary to ensure that the transplant does not result in more complications.

Although brain transplant may provide solutions to the medical problems,  ethical implications of the act must be considered. I do agree that brain transplant significantly affects the identity and personality of the individual. This is because it creates two persons in one, and erupts a feeling of a one is being controlled by a different person, leading to confusion. The process of creating a new body that is different from who one was before is unethical. Since most of the donor as individuals with chronic illness, obtaining the organ involves killing the patient, mostly without or with a forced concent which is unethical, however, disagree with the case study that one’s identity can not be changed by brain transplant. This is because identity is determined by past experiences and connection of the body and brain. Since transplant introduces the brain into a different body, the identity must be affected.



  1. Mahalingam R, Rodriguez J. Culture, Brain Transplants and Implicit Theories of Identity. Journal of Cognition and Culture. 2006;6(3-4):453-462. doi:10.1163/156853706778554968.
  2. Wagner N-F. Transplanting brains? South African Journal of Philosophy. 2016;35(1):18-27. doi:10.1080/02580136.2015.1106705.
  3. McRae C, Cherin E, Diem G, et al. Does personality change as a result of fetal tissue transplantation in the brain? Journal Of Neurology. 2003;250(3):282-286. Accessed February 19, 2019
  4. Neurochir, Z. The identity of the personality and personal identity: philosophical questions concerning transplantation of brain tissue. Pubmed. 1995; 56(4): 180-5.
  5. Gillon, R. Brain transplantation, personal identity, and medical ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics. 1996; 22: 131-132.
  6. Tyson, P. The future of brain transplants. Nova. 2010
  7. Perlow, M. Functional brain transplants. Peptides. 1980.1(1).
    8. Logan, R. Neurosurgeon, plans to bring deceased back to life with a pioneering brain transplant. Express. 2017.
    9. Le Roux, M., & Ricard, P. Brain, eyes, testes: off-limits for transplants? Medical Press. 2018