Why the world’s first human-to-animal hand transplant hasn’t happened yet

My Fellow Inebriates,

None of the Opposably Thumbed had time (they said) to do my typing yesterday, hence the drunken photos. This got me thinking about hand transplants. Has anyone ever grafted a human hand onto an animal’s wrist? There must be a doctor somewhere out who’s done it.

Jean-Michel Dubernard led the international team of physicians who performed the world’s first hand transplant in September 1998 on New Zealander Clint Hallam, who’d lost his hand years before in a sawing accident. The procedure gained popularity and next thing you know, people all over the world were getting new hands. And although Hallam ended up having his new hand amputated because of rejection issues, other patients have since received successful transplantations.

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.”

—Bruce Feirstein

Who wouldn’t want a face transplant?

My parents do their best not to be superstitious, but when I told my mum I was going to contact Dr. Dubernard about getting me some opposable thumbs, she said I was tempting fate. She said I should have some sensitivity about the seriousness of being without hands instead of pestering professionals who would never respond anyway.

She may be right. For one thing, Dubernard’s probably retired by now. For another, he’s had his share of past controversy. He weathered a shitstorm after it emerged that Clint Hallam was an ex-con who’d lost his hand in prison, and again when he was accused of performing a face transplant without following proper ethical and legal guidelines just because he wanted to be the first dude to do the procedure.

“I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good.”

—E.B. White

And would I even fit the criteria?

  • Patients must undergo an evaluation and be approved by a committee. OMG! How would I hold up under such scrutiny? I’ve never even had a job interview.
  • Patients must be 18-65. I’m 6, but in bear years. Maybe they would waive this requirement.
  • Patients must be in good health. OMG! Maybe they won’t look at my liver.
  • Patients must have already amputated their hands below the elbow. OMFG! You mean I have to do this myself? Or get a friend to do it? OMG, who would do it for me? Maybe Scarybear.
  • Patients must understand the risks involved. Well, isn’t that what this post is all about?

A Scarybear face transplant. Who wouldn’t want that?

And what about the donor? I hadn’t really thought about where my new hands might come from.

  • The donor has to be brain-dead.
  • The donor’s family has to give consent. That might be tricky.
  • The donor has to match the recipient’s gender, blood type, and viral status. OMG! Probably species, too, although the criteria don’t say so particularly.

Reading this sort of freaked me out, people. It seems like a pretty drastic way to get myself some thumbs. And then—here’s the part I hadn’t thought about—the hands don’t even work that well anyway! At least not right away. They need to be rehabbed; the recipient has to do physio and take anti-rejection drugs, like, forever, which was poor old Clint’s falling-down—apparently he didn’t keep up with the meds.

“Creative people see Prometheus in a mirror, never Pandora.”

—David Brin

After reading all this stuff, I needed a drink. But nobody would open a bottle. So I tweeted everybody I thought might have booze, thinking that if a new, exotic elixir arrived at LBHQ then my parents would feel compelled to crack it open ASAP.

But apparently the world is a much crueler place than I ever knew.

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