Death Interrupted: How Modern Medicine is Complicating the Way We Die, by Blair Bigham, MD

Most of us are reluctant to contemplate death. But in Death Interrupted: How Modern Medicine is Complicating the Way We Die, Blair Bigham, MD, argues that it’s more important now than ever to do just that. With the advance of medical technologies, the grey area between life and death is becoming more complicated. Bigham notes that it’s important to communicate our end-of-life wishes clearly. Otherwise, we might end up in “a place worse than death,” where our bodies are sustained, while our minds have gone.

The author of Death Interrupted speaks from a place of knowledge. Bigham worked as a paramedic, then as an emergency room and ICU doctor, so he’s witnessed many situations in which family members struggled to decide the appropriate amount of medical care to offer in the case of loved ones who were seriously injured or terminally ill. Nowadays, Bigham notes, doctors face “the day-to-day struggle caused by too much medicine—the new grey zone caused by the ever-expanding suite of technological and pharmaceutical choices available to doctors that delay a person from being dead-dead but might do little to restore life.” Complicating the matter is the human tendency to “fight off death no matter what,” even though there may be times when palliative care is more in order than extreme efforts to “save” a life.

Technology is ever-evolving, but Bigham suggests we need to carefully consider its role. “We must . . . move technology out of its current power-grabbing position and instead consider its use when ethical—and by ethical, I mean not only to prevent immediate death but to reasonably promote a return to life.”

Bigham states that he wrote the book in part to answer his questions about death. He covers a wide range of topics in search of answers. Bigham spends some time talking about today’s technologies, but also gives us a historical perspective. Assisted death, legal challenges, palliative care, cryogenics, and organ donation are among the topics explored. In addition to sharing his own experiences in the healthcare field, Bigham calls on experts and also presents statistics and case data. Though there’s a lot of information between the covers of Death Interrupted, Bigham has a knack for conveying complicated information in an easy-to-understand manner. Rather than feeling stuffy, the book’s style is smooth and almost conversational.

Bigham asserts that “ . . . like it or not, everyone you know will die. You will die. I will die. And it’s time we stop pretending that isn’t the case.” However according to a lawyer interviewed by Bigham, “only 25 percent of people have taken steps to ensure their wishes are known, and only 7 percent have spoken to their doctor.” It’s a difficult conversation and a tough matter to contemplate, but Bigham offers hope, pointing to resources like the Conversation Project that can help with the process.

While seeking his own answers to the death dilemma, Bigham generously brings readers along for the ride. Skillfully written and well-researched, Death Interrupted offers a thought-provoking read.


DR. BLAIR BIGHAM is a journalist, scientist, and attending emergency and ICU physician who trained at McMaster and Stanford Universities. He was a Global Journalism Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and an associate scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital. His work has appeared in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal, among others.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ The Walrus Books (Sept. 20 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487008546
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487008543

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Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.