In this followup to Chasing Life (2007), neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Gupta illustrates just how fuzzy the line between life and death can be, and explains what medicine and science are doing to blur it even further.
When the heart stops, when tests indicate “brain death,” when a patient hasn’t breathed for an hour or more—these have long been understood as hard-and-fast markers of death. Gupta uses real-life stories to reveal how ambiguous these situations actually are: a skier who was successfully resuscitated after spending more than an hour frozen underwater; a man who emerged from a coma unscathed after having been declared a “vegetable”; a 22-week-old fetus whose damaged heart was repaired in utero. These stories and the science behind them are rounded out with a look at those who seek to cheat death even further. Researchers challenge the status quo on CPR, doctors experiment with “therapeutic hypothermia” and scientists seek to induce suspended animation in injured soldiers by mimicking the chemistry of hibernating animals. Gupta always presents fascinating information, even if the prose is occasionally clumsy and the storytelling inelegant. The author tries to bring a balanced perspective to each issue. The chapter on “Cheating Death in the Womb,” for instance, includes a much-needed counterpoint by a sociologist who emphasizes that pregnant women are patients in their own right, not simply fetal “heart-lung machines.” Because Gupta focuses only on the “medical miracles,” however, he misses an opportunity for an important cost-benefit analysis of the highly risky and often-unsuccessful attempts to “cheat death.”
Well-informed and accessible, but incomplete.