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The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death [Hardcover]

by Dick Teresi
2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 13, 2012 0375423710 978-0375423710 1

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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The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death + How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter, New Edition
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Editorial Reviews


“This disturbing, often hilarious book raises many critical questions about deadness.”
   —The New York Times Book Review

“An indefatigable researcher and fluid writer, Mr. Teresi provides a good long riff on death past and present.”
   —The New York Times

The Week Magazine Author of the Week (03/21/2012)

"The moment of death, suggests science writer Dick Teresi, is harder to pin down than ever...Charting historical definitions of death, the thinking of research greats and debates over near-death experiences, Teresi notes that the ethical challenges are immense, asking, for instance, whether all organ donors are unrevivable."

“…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.”
    —Tony Miksanek, Booklist

“Like a real-life version of Robin Cook’s medical thriller Coma, Teresi paints a grisly picture of organ harvesting and raises uncomfortable questions: Is the donor actually dead rather than at the point of death? Might he or she be revived given time and proper medical attention? …Provocative… [An] examination of important ethical issues and the still-unresolved question of what constitutes death.”
    —The Kirkus Review

“Reading Dick Teresi’s book is like discovering that your college class has been hijacked by the spitball-lobbing kid in the back row—and that the kid is twice as smart as the prof ever was. 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 superserious 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

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (March 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375423710
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375423710
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Calls attention to some serious issues April 18, 2012
I've just read the entire book, unlike many of the negative reviewers.
Nowhere does Mr. Teresi claim that the people involved in this field aren't compassionate or sensitive (with a few exceptions). He does, however, cite enough published acientific work to support his thesis that decisions are made based on false or untested assumptions. He also claims that those who are in the position of declaring people dead are often misinformed or careless about the proper procedures. Studies in other areas have shown that doctors believe they are following protocol much more often than they actually are, with unfortunate results. If those who work in the field are convinced otherwise let them show studies that contradict this.
This book is well written, although I did occasionally feel that he as being sensationalist. Mr. Teresi also bases some claims on facilitated communication, a method whose scientific merit is highly questionable. Still, the studies cited to support his claims demand an informed response, not the emotional pleas of caregivers, transplant recipients and others who feel that the good of transplants supercedes any of the legitimate issues raised in tis book.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the hysteria; this book matters April 21, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This bracing book manages to entertain, even amuse, while exploring the disturbingly interconnected, undeniably fascinating subjects of death, near death, "brain death," coma, consciousness, paralysis, pain and organ donation. Early on, lost count of OMG moments. It's is a game changer, or should be, raising as it does the possibility that organ harvesting has occurred when or in ways it should not have. (Brought to mind the spectre of executed convicts later proved innocent by DNA evidence.) As if Teresi hasn't already made a case for extreme caution in declaring "brain death," he saves for the end the shocking financial incentives that underlie this widening corner of the medical-industrial complex. The sassy style masks a deadly serious message -- one that clearly has rattled many fellow "reviewers"; their panicky protests seem inadvertently to support the book's thesis rather than undermine it. How Teresi executed this book without invoking "Oy'm not dead yet" from Month Python, or Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" is a little mystifying, but perhaps admirable...
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Now that I have read the book... June 11, 2012
By MikeF
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am about to purchase this book after listening to the author discuss it on NPR. I will post a review on the book AFTER reading it.

In the interim, however, I find it intriguing that though the book was published on March 13, on that very same date it had already received 16 critical one-star Amazon ratings. By March 16 (just 3 days later), there were an additional 14 one-star Amazon ratings - totaling 30. All this before the book could have possibly even been delivered to (much less read by) any of these "reviewers."

So what operation orchestrated that smear?

After reading the book, I may indeed conclude it stinks. Or I may appreciate the author's research and cautions. Or something in between. I won't know until I read and evaluate its content. (I'm giving it an initial 3 stars simply because Amazon reviews require a star selection in order to post. My stars rating may go up or down after reading it.)

We all have our biases. I do as well. At least read the material before you take shots at it rather than simply regurgitating the opinions of others telling you what you should write. Sheesh!

Ok, it's 4 weeks later, and now having actually READ the book, here are my thoughts:

First, I have bumped up my overall opinion from an original "non-committal" of 3 stars to 4 stars. I wouldn't say this was a great read, but a pretty informationally compelling one - especially if you are or lean toward becoming an organ donor at death.

(As a side note, this book is nothing about donating organs while you are alive, such as donating one of your two kidneys for someone you match up with.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, and IMPORTANT July 17, 2012
Dick Teresi asks a very important question - what is "death"?

The writing is funny, and opinionated, but the question is very important. Who/how/what determines a person is dead? The book tells you how things are.

It brings forth the fundamental problem of organ transplant. We don't know when a person truly "dies", but more you become sure of the death, less is the body useful for organ transplant.

Dick wasn't too kind to MDs, but I hope more MDs read this book. The few MD friends I have didn't go into it for the money.

As for the rating, it's five star for importance, three star for objectivity, but I give it five star if only because the crazies who think they can bury the book even before the book came out.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Teresi offers a counter argument to the "harvesting and transplant above all else" ethic that has taken hold in the medical community. Disturbing examples of recovery from what appeared to be near-dead people, combined with our ignorance about when death occurs, cry out for putting a brake on the whole organ-harvesting enterprise. (On a personal note, a friend's 19-year old child was on life support for 9 days and fully recovered). The friction between the rights of the dying patient and their families, and those waiting for transplants - sometimes with their own lives in the balance, is vividly portrayed. The book argues that the pendulum has swung far too much in the direction of harvesting. Teresi also deals with the lack of dignity in the whole process. The cadaver is not a person but an object, a commodity, to the medical community.

I like Teresi's point of view that science is uncertain about a lot of what we think we know. Doctors and brain scientists don't really know what is going on with people in vegetative states, comas, or on life support.

The book is not especially well-written: there is a lot of narrative ribbing, personal asides, disorganization, and redundancy. But his point-of-view is well-formed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars book opened my mind
This book opened my mind on a few issues regarding brain death and organ donation. And to me, at this point, there are still no clear cut answers. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Laura
4.0 out of 5 stars Confused at the number of bad reviews
I am half way through the book and although I have not encountered any real hard, fast 'science,' this author is far from a 'conspiracy theorist. Read more
Published 3 months ago by roozie4
4.0 out of 5 stars Shattering information
This was a challenging read, but well worth the effort. It starts out a bit slow, but the historical background provides a strong foundation for the topic. Read more
Published 4 months ago by K. Snyder
5.0 out of 5 stars About "beating-heart cadavers," who are neither alive nor dead.
"Anesthesiologists have been at the forefront of questioning the finality of brain death and whether beating-heart cadavers truly are unfeeling, unaware corpses. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Leslie Ellis
2.0 out of 5 stars But where's the science?
Boy, did this guy have an axe to grind. I expected a solid read about the science surrounding death. Read more
Published 10 months ago by AnnaW
5.0 out of 5 stars Get Ready to Turn in Your Organ Donor Card
Great book. Very informative. Eye opening, and in some cases, downright shocking. Only a fool would consider being an organ donor after reading this book. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Jeffrey K. Downes
5.0 out of 5 stars THE UNDEAD; A MUST READ FOR ALL
Every high school student,and adults should read this book. It is fair and unbiasid reporting by Dick Teresi. What happens in hospitals is akin to the death camps. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Pat O'Connor
5.0 out of 5 stars Good background - Everyone should read
I read this book several months ago but the information still comes to mind periodically. As an engineer, I like to understand situations and control my destiny as much as... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Larry
4.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking
Modern medicine has made it no easier to say with certainty exactly when our conscious awareness has truly left the body. Are you dead when you are no longer you? Read more
Published 15 months ago by Debra M. Givin
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
I absolutely enjoyed this book and it was quick shipping. I recommend this book to everyone because it makes you think twice about many things that happen after you die.
Published 16 months ago by Elizabeth
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