Synopses & Reviews
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-Bénigne 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.
What is death, and how do people in the medical profession determine it? In this fascinating examination of the increasingly blurred line between life and death, consciousness and unconsciousness, science journalist Dick Teresi introduces us to the coma specialists, organ transplant surgeons, ICU doctors, and many others who are faced with this issue daily. The Undead describes how death has been determined through the ages, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and leading to the 1968 Harvard Medical School paper that indirectly stated that death was not cardiopulmonary failure, but a “loss of personhood”—i.e., brain death. Teresi explores the consequences of new technologies that extend people’s lives but which conflict with society’s desire to see them declared dead before their time.
About the Author
Dick Teresi is the author or coauthor of several books about science and technology, most recently The God Particle and Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science, both selected as New York Times Book Review notable books. He has been editor in chief of Science Digest, Longevity, VQ, and Omni, of which he was also a cofounder, and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Discover, among other publications.