The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death by Dick Teresi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fascinating and chilling. Every bit as engrossing as a best selling thriller, the author has done a superb job with his research, life experiences and skill as a journalist. I won't say this is an entirely unbiased account of organ harvesting and life cessation, but it does offer a good deal of information rarely covered or reported in the media. The Undead is terrifying and in that respect the author has done a phenomenal job.
It strikes me that journalists and reporters - including the author - often claim that they are 'just reporting the facts' when they present their story. That may be true; however, that doesn't mean they have to report all of the facts. It also doesn't lay claim to how those facts are reported. Good journalism isn't dry. It fires the reader up. It creates a strong emotional response. It's controversial.
This book does all of that and more. It's witty. It's snarky. The writing is effective. All around, it's a very entertaining read. None of that should minimize it's worth. The book provides a balance to the constant pressure being applied to the general populace of how valuable organ donation is and how it saves lives. It's a highly contentious balance.
Strong proponents of organ donation may view much of what is said in this book as unfair, but I wouldn't agree. Many highly thought provoking points are brought up throughout. Here are a couple (these are over simplified examples from the book - not exactly quoted):
- The ICU has become a place to die (a study of two ICUs). In 1988 51% of ICU patients perished as a result of medical treatment being withheld (because those patients were written off). By 1993 that number rose to 90%.
- In the US the "standard for brain death" does not appear to be universal. It's up to the doctor. Where there are uniform policies in place that justify the withholding of life support, in practice it is "all over the map."
While I enjoyed this book immensely, I doubt it will change the views of most of the readers who pick this up. Organ donations do save lives (even in a best case scenario where it's only one out of two very sick people). Someone very close to me donated a kidney to save a life (live donation) and will forever be a hero in my books. I have helped neighbours with fundraising efforts to get someone onto the recipient list (and yes he is a middle aged man with a less than shiny health preservation history).
However, the people I know who aren't registered donors are also strong believers in organ donation. They simply doubt the effort that would go into saving them first. And unfortunately this book does little to allay their fears. (Although, I seriously doubt anything would. It's like believing a doctor when he or she asks for your medical history and claims there's 'no judgement.' Of course there is. Everybody judges.)
I don't live in the US, so I can rest comfortably in the blissful ignorance of what brain death and organ donation procedures are in place in my country. That doesn't mean the book didn't make me think about it. I do. But mostly, I think about what the author could do with a sequel. Perhaps he could dive more deeply into the lives of organ recipients and their perspectives on the matter? Or, if organ donation is already billion dollar industry in the US what is the incentive to researching and developing alternative life saving measures? I would love to see a follow up to Mr. Teresi's work. Hopefully the author will live long enough to do so.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good read, particularly those who might hate it.
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NOTE: This isn't an indie read. It's traditional. I just thought it was such an entertaining read I'd share it from my Goodreads account.