The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers–How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death is all about a subject most of us don’t relish, death, and the author starts out by showing us how difficult and unpleasant it is to think about death, and how subjects in various experiments behave strikingly differently when made to think about the topic. He then proceeds to show how difficult it can be to determine when someone is dead, which to me was the best part of the book. Even without respirators and other high-tech equipment that very much blur the line between life and death, there are many historical and contemporary stories of people who were thought dead but were not — although perhaps not quite as many as one might think reading the book, and very, very few meeting any definition of independent functioning.
And then the author deploys his full-fledged attack: physicians and hospitals are simply conspiring to rip organs out of not-quite-dead patients, reaping fortunes and fame through transplantation. While it’s certainly possible, even inevitable, that some precautions have been missed in some cases, why such a forceful diatribe against organ donation? We know that there is a literally deathly shortage of organs for transplants so this kind of dramatic argument will make it even tougher for those on waiting lists. If there are problems, why not propose reasonable solutions? For instance, the families should be told clearly what will happen to their loved ones after organ donation, and bodies should be treated respectfully — but let’s not create unwarranted panic.