The Undead: Book summary and reviews of The Undead by Dick Teresi

The Undead

Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers - How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death

by Dick Teresi

The Undead by Dick Teresi X
The Undead by Dick Teresi
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Book 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-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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"…Chilling, controversial, and, at times, comical commentary on physical death… All sorts of experts - on coma, animal euthanasia, and execution - as well as undertakers, organ transplant staff, neurologists, ethicists, and lawyers weigh-in on the death debate." - Booklist

"A provocative, if one-sided, examination of important ethical issues and the still-unresolved question of what constitutes death." - Kirkus Reviews

"Taking on biologists, philosophers, and the medical establishment, Teresi zestfully skewers our confused thinking about life, death, and the states in between. The Undead is a rarity: a super-serious examination of a profound subject that is a pleasure to read." - Charles C. Mann, author of 1493 and 1491

"As I was pulled into this startling, informative account of death-defying and death-defining, I couldn't help putting a checkmark in the margin next to every line that made me gasp - or laugh - or marvel at Dick Teresi's bold, inimitable reporting style. On some pages I made as many as four checkmarks. The book left me reeling at the welter of uncertainty that surrounds the certainty of death." - Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and A More Perfect Heaven

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Reader Reviews

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Jonathan

The Undead is Unreadable
The author completely mischaracterizes the universally approved process of declaring someone dead through neurological criteria.

This criteria is widely accepted by physicians and neuroscientists – and is based on more than 25 years of medical and scientific study.

The article, meanwhile, misuses the term life-support. Before an organ transplant, the patient is dead but machines profuse the organs to keep them viable. This is not life support.

By distorting the facts, he attempts to instill fear among generous Americans inclined to register as organ donors. Meanwhile, 112,000 men, women and children sit on the transplant list. Each day, 18 of them will die.

The inaccurate article also could deny the families of donors the opportunity to find solace by knowing their loved ones were able to save the lives of others. Every day at the NJ Sharing Network, we see the benefit donation makes not just to those who receive organs but to the donor families as well.

The author states that he will not sign a donor card. Perhaps he should make his wishes known that he also will decline ever accepting an organ if one is needed to save his own life.

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Author Information

Dick Teresi

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.

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