Christiaan Barnard

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Barnard in 1968.
Poetry of reality
Icon science.svg
We must know.
We will know.
A view from the
shoulders of giants.

Christiaan Neethling Barnard (1922–2001) was a South African surgeon famous for successfully transplanting a heart into a patient who regained consciousness. He helped pioneer organ transplant surgery in the 1950s and 1960s in a number of procedures that gained widespread media attention. He retired from surgical practice in 1983 due to arthritis developing in his hands.[1] Barnard authored a number of books, including two autobiographies, One Life (1969) and The Second Life (1993).

Early life[edit]

Barnard was born in the Union of South Africa before its independence. His father was a minister and a number of his siblings died in infancy. Barnard would go on to study medicine at Capetown University. He devoted a good deal of his time after becoming a doctor to performing medical experiments on dogs.[2]

Surgical breakthroughs[edit]

In the 1950s and 1960s the world saw a surge of new surgical procedures, especially related to organ transplants. New, immunosuppressive drugs and the ability to identify blood types made organ transplantation more possible. In 1953 the first successful kidney transplant was performed in the United States.[3] Throughout the 1960s surgeons, including Barnard himself, had been experimenting on heart transplant surgeries in dogs with some notable achievements. Later in the 1960s, Barnard performed one of the first human kidney transplants in South Africa.[4] On January 23, 1964 the world's first heart transplant was undertaken at the University of Mississippi Medical Center when the heart of a chimpanzee was put into the body of a man. The transplant was only a temporary success. The man was never able to regain consciousness, and the heartbeat lasted for only about one hour.[5] Prior to this some failed attempts to transplant organs had been made by a Soviet doctor in the 1930s, though his work was unknown outside of his nation and ultimately went nowhere.[6]

In 1967, a diabetic named Louis Washkansky, diagnosed with an incurable heart condition opted for a heart transplant surgery. Christiaan Barnard would lead the team that would then perform the world's first successful human to human heart transplant surgery. Washkansky, aged 54, survived the procedure, but unfortunately was never able to leave the hospital and died from pneumonia 18 days later.[7] The surgery itself was still considered a breakthrough as the cause of death was the result of Washkansky having to constantly be on immunosuppressive drugs, making the patient highly susceptible to infection and disease.[8] By 1968 hundreds of heart transplants were being performed worldwide, although the practice began to dwindle as survival rates were initially poor. Barnard persisted, and his next patient, Philip Blaiberg, survived 19 months. He continued to perform surgeries out of Groote Schuur hospital in South Africa until the 1980s. Many of his patients survived for decades and as the advent of new immune system repressing drugs helped reduce bodily rejections of donor hearts, the practice become more popular worldwide.[9]

The not-so-good stuff[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Apartheid

A victim of the inverse stopped clock, Barnard once endorsed a quack "anti-aging" cream and made a number of claims about South Africa's racial politics that were clearly wrong, morally dubious, or both.[10] Some examples

  • The "coloured" people (as people of mixed-ancestry were known during apartheid) have "always been accepted" among whites.[11]
  • Regarding the Soweto uprising, Barnard claimed "there was … a lot of external stirring up of turbulence". Regarding anger from the black population when Steve BikoWikipedia was murdered, he said "I think that something like $50,000 came in from outside to work up feelings at that funeral."[12]

In fairness, he was at times critical of the apartheid regime and claimed he wanted to abolish "social discrimination".[14] Additionally he made no qualms about working with Hamilton Naki, an informally-trained black South African medical technician. Indeed, Barnard even claimed that Naki would have been a better surgeon than himself, had he been given the opportunity.[15]


  1. Altman, Lawrence K. (3 September 2001). "Christiaan Barnard, 78, Surgeon For First Heart Transplant, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  2. Cooper, D. K., & Cooley, D. A. (2001). Christiaan Neethling Barnard: 1922-2001.
  3. Hatzinger, M., Stastny, M., Grützmacher, P., & Sohn, M. (2016). The history of kidney transplantation. Der Urologe. Ausg. A, 55(10), 1353-1359.
  4. Lederer, Susan E. (2008). Flesh and Blood: Organ Transplantation and Blood Transfusion in Twentieth-Century America. Oxford University Press. p. 174
  5. "James D. Hardy, 84, Dies; Paved Way for Transplants – Obituary; Biography." 21 February 2003. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  6. Barker, C. F., & Markmann, J. F. (2013). "Historical overview of transplantation". Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine, 3(4), a014977.
  7. "Christiaan Barnard | South African surgeon". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  8. "Christiaan Neethling Barnard". South African History Online. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  9. Venter, Sahm. (July 6 1994) "Longest-Surviving Heart Transplant Patient Dies".
  10. Hitchens, Christopher. (September 5, 2001). "Christiaan Barnard's doctored past". The Guardian. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  11. Hilary, Ng'weno (19 May 1978). "I Would Split South Africa Into Two Parts – Equitably". The Weekly Review: 16–17.
  12. ibid.
  13. ibid.
  14. ibid.
  15. Hamilton Naki. South African History Online. Retrieved March 29, 2020.