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.
"Suddenly, death doesn't seem so certain after all. In this brutally honest look at how doctors determine the moment of death, skeptical science writer and Omni magazine cofounder Teresi (The God Particle) relishes ripping into the 1968 Harvard team that formulated new criteria for determining death: 'loss of personhood,' or brain death. Doctors, Teresi says, can now 'declare a person dead in less time than it takes to get a decent eye exam' by testing reflexes: 'a flashlight in the eyes, ice water in the ears, and then an attempt to gasp for air' when the respirator is disconnected. Teresi interviews scientists who question the finality of brain death when the heart is still beating, and even the concept that personhood is located solely in the brain. More alarming, Teresi charges that the brain-death revolution is driven by the billion-a-year organ transplant business. Teresi will scare readers to death with examples of how undependable brain-death criteria can be one organ donor began to breathe spontaneously just as the surgeon removed his liver. But the more powerful effect of this scathing report should be the start of an uncomfortable but necessary conversation between doctors and potential organ donors. Agent: Janklow and Nesbit." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An important and provocative examination of why the line between life and death, consciousness and unconsciousness, is a blurred one, even with the tools of advanced technology, and especially in light of the business of organ harvesting.
In this fascinating look at how the determination of death has become complicated and bewildering, Dick 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 live 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. Teresi writes about how death has been determined through the ages, beginning with the ancient Egyptians, and about the 1968 Harvard Medical School paper that officially stated that death was not cardiopulmonary failure or cell death but a "loss of personhood"—i.e., brain death. And throughout, he makes clear that organ harvesting has become big business, while the medical establishment has become less and less clear about who is truly dead or alive.
About the Author
Dick Teresi is the coauthor of The God Particle and the author of Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science, both selected as New York Times Book Review Notable Books. He has been the editor in chief of Science Digest, Longevity, VQ, and Omni, and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic, among other publications.