Dick Teresi on the Blurring Line Between Life and Death

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Science writer Dick Teresi examines why what we think of as life and death, consciousness and nonconsciousness, is not exactly clear, and he looks at how this problem has been complicated by the business of organ harvesting. His book is The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers—How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death.


Dick Teresi

Comments [12]

The author's basic knowledge of medical care and the process of death is so lacking in reality it would be funny if people didn't take his fantasies as fact. There are so many misleading, half truths and outright false statements made during the interview it is hard to know where to start.
One of the misleading points is that he acts like brain death is a common occurrence so everyone should be worried it will happen to them. Fact: Less than 1% of all deaths in the US are from brain death. Funny how that basic point is never mentioned. I wonder why? Who are these patient that are brain dead. People that suffer head trauma. People who are in accidents such as vehicle/motorcycle accidents. The second group is those with major strokes or lack of oxygen. It think it is obvious why there poor people become brain dead.
For the real facts about brain death and transplant which Mr. Teresi says is hidden from the public, (Google is a secret?)Google "organ transplants understanding death" or go to


Apr. 11 2012 10:10 AM
Frank Fiumecaldo

Leonard should do this interview with someone who can comment on the misstatements this guy is making such as 40% of chronic vegetative states are fully conscious or that spinal cord reflexes show that a brain dead patient is "feeling" pain.I think having this author talk with out having someone who works with severe brain injury or brain death is like having someone talk of the dangers of childhood vaccines without a medical person available to comment on the facts.

Apr. 10 2012 12:54 PM
Pearl from Mount Vernon, NY

After hearing this discussion, I am no longer going to be an organ donor!

Apr. 10 2012 12:52 PM
John A.

My cousin was just hooked up to premium sports cable, so he can watch 24x7. Can he now be said to no longer have a life?

Apr. 10 2012 12:41 PM
Rosa from White Plains

Is he disputing that Terry Schiabo was dead brain?

Apr. 10 2012 12:38 PM
Lucy from Manhattan

Dr. Terisi's statement that he is not trying to discourage people of becoming organ donors is very disingenuous. Just his use of the term organ "harvesting" instead of organ "procurement" is prejudicial giving rise to the image of an organ donor as being treated as a entity to be used like a field of corn.

Apr. 10 2012 12:36 PM
Robert R. Goodman, MD, PhD

I am afraid that Mr. Teresi and this program may be over-simplifying this issue and doing a disservice to the public. I certainly agree that it is important for brain death testing to be performed properly. I do not believe that any person who has been properly declared brain dead (even without blood flow testing) has been maintained alive for more than 3 months. I believe it is critical to have an appropriate method to obtain organ donors.

Also, no actually brain dead person would react to a skin incision.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert R. Goodman, MD, PhD
Chairman, Dept of Neurosurgery
St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Beth Israel Medical Center
Assoc Professor, Dept of Neurological Surgery
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

Apr. 10 2012 12:32 PM
Joel Hubbard from Smithtown

Would please expand on this complex and difficult subject with "Please Explain" show? Thank you for your open and real reporting!

Apr. 10 2012 12:31 PM
John A.

Is there a defined point, in law even, where a body can function autonomically but the patient is still said to be brain dead?

Apr. 10 2012 12:31 PM
Rosa from White Plains

I just tuned in. Has Dr. Terisi defined "brain dead"? Also, what is the difference between Brain Dead and Vegetative state?

Apr. 10 2012 12:29 PM
Edward from NJ

The real reason there's a blurry line is that medical science has created it in the first place. Take ventilators and other life support out of the equation and there's no ambiguity.

Apr. 10 2012 12:24 PM

After doing the research for this book, have you changed your approach to your will, with regard to Living Will, Organ Donation, and Do Not Resuscitate orders?

Apr. 10 2012 12:24 PM

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