Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We Aren't Zombies Yet

The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death by Dick Teresi

Summary: Important and provocative, The Undead examines why even with the tools of advanced technology, what we think of as life and death, consciousness and nonconsciousness, is not exactly clear and how this problem has been further complicated by the business of organ harvesting.

Dick Teresi, a science writer with a dark sense of humor, manages to make this story entertaining, informative, and accessible as he shows how death determination has become more complicated than ever. Teresi introduces us to brain-death experts, hospice workers, undertakers, coma specialists and those who have recovered from coma, organ transplant surgeons and organ procurers, anesthesiologists who study pain in legally dead patients, doctors who have saved living patients from organ harvests, nurses who care for beating-heart cadavers, ICU doctors who feel subtly pressured to declare patients dead rather than save them, and many others. Much of what they have to say is shocking. Teresi also provides a brief history of how death has been determined from the times of the ancient Egyptians and the Incas through the twenty-first century. And he draws on the writings and theories of celebrated scientists, doctors, and researchers—Jacques-BĂ©nigne Winslow, Sherwin Nuland, Harvey Cushing, and Lynn Margulis, among others—to reveal how theories about dying and death have changed. With The Undead, Teresi makes us think twice about how the medical community decides when someone is dead.

Review: A thoughtful, but a bit heavy handed, book about life, death, and everything in between. 

Teresi purports to report the facts and just the facts. Despite that, a reader can easily notice his bias and spoils the book a little since what he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. I know death is a controversial subject and I am sure that this book will elicit strong emotions from the readers. I am all for organ donation, but of course that brings up many ethically issues related to what death exactly is and does cardio death or brain death count as death. 

I have my own views of death, which I will not go into here, but there is plenty of information in the book to make you think and question, including those who are for organ donation. Death seems to be less certain than we realize. I liked the historical aspect of the book the best. It is fascinating to see how those in the past viewed death. I liked learning about what happens to the body when it dies (when cell death starts in). The body is more complex than we realize and death is not always assured. 


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those interested in the meaning of life and the science of death. 

No comments:

Post a Comment