Dr. Christiaan Barnard has turned down a $250,000 offer as consultant on a project to transplant human heads to new bodies.

United Press International, quoting the famed heart-transplant doctor's refusal to try heads, stated:

"What are the ethics of such work? What morality is there in offering someone such a life?"

Dr. Barnard said he had tried transplanting heads of animals 15 years ago, with only the most qualified degree of success. It is known that hundreds of animal heads have also been transplanted by neurosurgeons at the Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital.

Some of these were so successful, UPI reported, that the animals lived for as long as seven days afterward.

Dr. Barnard alluded to the impossibility of connecting the old body's spinal cord to the new head, this rendering speech or bodily movement generally impossible in the case of humans (and in the case of animals as well, it is believed).

The $250,000 offer to serve as consultant in the new-heads-for-old project was made bt the National Enquirer, the wire service report stated.

That is a newspaper distributed widely in America, specializing in novelties.

Tom Kuncl, executive editor of the paper, said his staff had spoken with Barnard but insisted there was some misunderstanding, denying the $250,000 offer was made and suggesting "some of our staff could benefit from head transplants."

In Washington, among those reading early reports, there were mixed feelings:

Dr. Barnard's delicacy was admired on the one hand, even as his hesitancy to proceed was questioned.

If the human head, sewed on or otherwise attached to the new body lived 40 hours, it of course raises questions.

If it were possible, in fact, to combine in one person the many virtues now spread among many then society might profit. A tempering, in some cases, or a stiffening in others, might occur. Whether judgement would be affected merely by putting the head on a new body is of course not known, but if a trip to China sometimes gives new perspectives, so might a new liver.

Already remarkable contributions are occurring to students of society.

Consider the possible combinations of the gifted and the prominent Luciano Pavarotti and Richard Nixon, Miss Lillian and Norman mailer, Ayatollah Khomeini and Dolly Parton, Joseph Califano and Phillip Morris, Carl Sagan and Cher, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bess Truman, Solzhenitsyn and Jackie O., Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger.

Whether the head could talk or not, at least it would be alive. It is not the custom now to let patients die merely because they do not talk (as in certain cases of paralysis, cancer of the vocal cords, comas, etc) and it is believed the whole "sanctity of life" issue will have to be debated anew.

It is understood that a degree of promptness is required in such an operation. The head could not be left indefinitely on a shelf or ice box, but after being severed from its old body should be attached to a new body with all deliberate speed. The "new" body should not already have a head, needless to say, for the engrafting of additional heads on a body is at present beyond medical competence, it is thought.

If a person were decapitated, say through the use of a guillotine in an execution, there is no reason the body could not be salvaged, however, and a new head fixed to it. The new head might appropriately come from an automobile accident victim whose body was mangled but whose head was in reasonable shape.

Assuming the new creature lived two days, and then died, there might be interesting questions of law raised over the two estates. But nothing that lawyers could not reach a satisfactory conclusion on.

Burial services might require revision, acknowledging different parts might be interred at different times and places, but clerics have solved far more difficult matters over the centuries.

Ultimately the matter of head transplants may come to a mere test of scientific nerve and boldness.

It is used to be said men could not walk on the moon. It used to be said men could not fly in the air. It used to be said you could not just push a button and expect a room to be flooded with light.

Possibly the mechanical problems stand in the way of progress. To work out the bugs, a good assortment of heads and bodies would seem desirable.

The likeihood is that few would volunteer, for the advancement of science weighs little in comparison with the ordinary human's mundane routine of walking the dog, eating tuna fish salad and so on. A heightened sense of dediction (ask not what science can do for you, etc.) to impersonal research would be necessary.

One possibility already thought of by some is cranial mutuality in which two consenting adults agree to swap heads, the operation to be performed in a double operating room.

Since this has not been tried, it is not known what the advantages might be, if any.

One of the poets, on the subject of transplanting violets in the garden, observed:

"All that before was poor and scant Redoubles still and multiplies."

Transplant vigor, like hybrid vigor, might be one unexpected bonus, along with the advantages readily anticipated.

Sober minds hope that an enlightened public debate on the subject will be free from partisan pleading (undertakers and their ilk) and free from filippant conjecture.

The idea has already occurred to some that the White House might take a lead, setting a wholesome tone, and exploring (with representatives from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, say, to symbolize the general public) the ethical, religious, legal, psychological literary, biological, political, economic and historical aspects of the transplant business.

There must of necessity be a period in which good men differ, a period in which tolerance and temperate speech are important.

It may prove a test of the nation's willingless to be open-minded. It is still held against the papacy that Galileo was not encouraged by them in his researches and yet now everyone agrees Galileo was correct to some extent.

When the mechanics of the thing are perfected, it may be discovered that many American heads would welcome a new body, and many American bodies could stand a new head. CAPTION: Picture 1, Head by Frankenstein; body by Marilyn Monroe; Picture 2, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, by Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post