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Book and Media Reviews
October 26, 2011

Spectacular Death: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Mortality and (Un)representability

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Emergency Medicine and Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor (arbmph@umich.edu).

JAMA. 2011;306(16):1804-1805. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1547

In the 4 decades following the pioneering work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Dame Cicely Saunders in caring for the dying, the United States and Canada have witnessed considerable development in the disciplines of palliative medicine, hospice care, and clinical ethics practice. This transformation in end-of-life care has fostered a wealth of aligned scholarship by physicians, nurses, ethicists, theologians, lawyers, philosophers, and policy makers. While the majority of this scholarly work surrounds the delivery of competent and compassionate care to the dying, a collective fascination about death persists because of its many unanswerable questions. The phenomenon of death—the closure of each individual's existence—remains life's greatest mystery. Four centuries after Shakespeare, the words he penned for Hamlet's best-known soliloquy remain true: “But that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will. . . . ” (act 3, scene 1, lines 55-87). Death still remains the great puzzler of the will, and whether feared or embraced, for each person it looms ahead as an unavoidable enigmatic event.