Text from: http://thehumanmarvels.com/?p=28
In 1790 the astute surgeon Everard Home wrote of ‘a species of lusus naturae so unaccountable, that, I believe, no similar instance is to be found upon record’. He was writing of the Boy of Bengal after observing drawings and collecting and reviewing the accounts of several of his peers. While the boy was remarkable for both his medical condition and perseverance, Home was actually incorrect in his initial assumptions.
The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal was born in the village of Mundul Gait in Bengal in May of 1783 into a poor farming family. His remarkable life was very nearly extinguished immediately after his delivery as a terrified midwife tried to destroy the infant by throwing him into a fire. Miraculously, while he was rather badly burned about the eye, ear and upper head, he managed to survive. His parents began to exhibit him in Calcutta, where he attracted a great deal of attention and earned the family a fair amount of money. While the large crowds gathered to see the Two-Headed Boy his parents took to covering the lad with a sheet and often kept him hidden – sometimes for hours at a time and often in darkness. As his fame spread across India, so did the caliber of his observers. Several noblemen, civil servants and city officials arranged to showcase the boy in their own homes for both private gatherings and grand galas – treating their guests to up close examinations. One of these observers was a Colonel Pierce who described the encounter to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks and it was Sir Banks who later forwarded the account to the surgeon Everard Home.
The term ‘Two-Headed’ may be a bit misleading as rather that two heads side by side, the Boy actually had head atop the other. When compared to the average child, both heads were of an appropriate size and development. The second head sat atop the main head inverted and simply ended in a neck-like stump. The second head seemed to, at times, function independently from the main head. When the boy cried or smiled the features of the second head did not always match. Yet, when the main head was fed, the second head would produce saliva. Furthermore, if the second head was presented with a breast to suckle – it would attemp to do so. While the main head was well formed the secondary head did posses some irregularities. The eyes and ears were underdeveloped. The tongue was small and the jaw malformed but both were capable of motion. When the Boy slept, the secondary head would often be observed alert and awake – eyes darting about.
Despite the attention the Boy of Bengal received, none of it was medical in nature. There were no intensive first hand medical examinations of the Boy on record and the vast majority of the press attention given to the Boy focused no on his condition, but rather his ‘freakish’ appearance. The Boy, who seemed to suffer no serious ill effects in relation to his condition, died at the age of four from a cobra bite. It was only then, after much unseemly business, that medicine was able to examine the case.
The Boy was buried near the Boopnorain River, outside the city of Tumloch but the grave was soon robbed by Mr. Dent, a salt agent for the East India Company. He dissected the putrefied body himself and gave the skull to a Captain Buchanan of the East Indian Company. Buchanan brought the skull to England, where it ended up in the hands of his close friend- Everard Home.
When Mr. Dent had dissected the heads he discovered that the brains were separate and distinct. Each brain was also enveloped in its proper coverings and it appeared as though both brains received the nutrition required to sustain life and thought. The skull of the Boy of Bengal can still be seen at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of London.
The classification of this condition is today known as Craniopagus parasiticus and technically falls under the category of parasitic twins however many of the early naturalists have attempted to classify the Bengal case as a case of conjoined twins due to the signs of independent life given by the secondary head.
There have been two recent cases of Craniopagus parasiticus. The most recent was in Febuary 2005, the case of a little girl named Manar Maged and her parasitic twin as documented on the show Body Shock
. The non-parasitic twin survived surgery and lived for almost a year before succumbing to a brain infection. While watching this documentary for the first time, the question on my mind was whether or not the parasitic twin was aware of its surroundings? I say "it" only because it had no lower body parts - only a small chest cavity (no lungs or heart, meaning it could not utter a sound) and a partial spine.
In the documentary the doctors described the parasitic twin as exhibiting "reflexive behaviors" like suckling and crying (silently), but I couldn't help but wonder if it was actually concious. It did open its eyes and look around. The nurses described it as having an individual personality but I suppose they could have been imagining it. If the second head was a person, what philosopical or ethical implications does this have? What if it was possible to keep both twins alive?
Obviously if the second head is causing problems for the twin, as was the case with Manar Maged, it's better to remove the extra head so that the fully formed child can live... so far, all attempted surgeries have resulted in complications that led to the death of the other infant. Since this condition is so rare, with only 80 known cases, only 10 of which were documented, only 3 of which survived past birth, I find Craniopagus parasiticus more interesting for the philosopical questions it poses than the question of how doctors should react when faced with this type of birth, since most of the time the child won't survive long enough for any action to be taken.
PS - Fallen world my ass.