Under my byline

Gut feeling

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 3 February 2008

Will illegal kidney buyers get more than they bargained for?

Middle-aged Briton Ian Gammon got a kidney from his wife, and along with it some of her personality — or so the couple told the Daily Mail in 2006.

Rugby-loving Ian, after his transplant, turned to cooking, baking, bargain-hunting and gardening. What’s more, he discovered intuition and a willingness to trust in it, along with a sudden love for dogs, which his wife adores and he used to dislike. Naturally his wife is overjoyed at the transformation.

The Gammons’ is not an isolated case. There are numerous instances of post-transplant personality change, although whether that personality comes from the donor is far from certain. A few researchers have begun to systematise the anecdotal evidence of personality transfer via organ and try to evaluate its incidence and scientific basis.

Chief among these are Paul Pearsall, Gary Schwartz and Linda Russek, authors of a 2002 study published in Nexus magazine in 2005, which presented several striking cases where heart, or heart-lung, transplant recipients of all ages saw significant changes not only in behaviour, but also in habits, tastes, choice of activity, food preference and “emotional factors”, making them more like the donors.

In a few cases, the recipient actually felt the donor inside as a separate personality. Reportedly none of the recipients or their families knew the donors (who were all dead) or their families.

One case they describe is of a 29-year-old woman who received the heart of a 19-year-old girl. The donor was a vegetarian and, her mother said, “man-crazy”. The recipient was a meat-lover and lesbian, but after the transplant was repelled by meat and, apparently, turned heterosexual.

The idea that personality and memory can be transferred via organs (current orthodoxy is that only the nervous and immune systems can store memory) is supported by the as yet unproven concept of “cellular memory”, according to which, like all “dynamical” systems, even cells store information and energy.

Mainstream medicine summarily rejects such notions. TransWeb.org, an educational website serving the “world transplant community”, declares that “Thoughts and memories are stored in the brain. The other organs are not capable of transferring memory from one person to another, even though it makes interesting fiction!”

However, prudence suggests that anything so solidly asserted by doctors must be doubted. Perhaps the unwilling kidney donors of Gurgaon will have their quiet revenge after all.

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