WHO SAYS YOU’RE DEAD? Medical & Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned

Jacob Appel

Algonquin/Workman Publishing, 2019

Agent: Jill Marr

Drawing upon the author’s two decades teaching medical ethics, as well as his work as a practicing psychiatrist, this profound and addictive little book offers up challenging ethical dilemmas and asks readers, What would you do?

  • A daughter gets tested to see if she’s a match to donate a kidney to her father. The test reveals that she is not the man’s biological daughter. Should the doctor tell the father? Or the daughter?
  • A deaf couple prefers a deaf baby. Should they be allowed to use medical technology to ensure they have a child who can’t hear? 
  • Who should get custody of an embryo created through IVF when a couple divorces? 
  • Or, when you or a loved one is on life support, Who says you’re dead?

In short, engaging scenarios, Dr. Appel takes on hot-button issues that many of us will confront: genetic screening, sexuality, privacy, doctor-patient confidentiality. He unpacks each hypothetical with a brief reflection drawing from science, philosophy, and history, explaining how others have approached these controversies in real-world cases. Who Says You’re Dead? is designed to defy easy answers and to stimulate thought and even debate among professionals and armchair ethicists alike.


"An engaging, thought-provoking, and accessible exploration of the many knotty issues that have appeared in newspaper headlines or challenged medical professionals behind closed doors.”
—Library Journal Review

"Appel’s academic training and wide experience as a practicing physician and ethicist, combined with his clear writing style, will offer non-medical readers helpful resources when such questions arise in their lives, as they almost certainly will.”
—Missourian Review

“An original, compelling, and provocative exploration of ethical issues in our society, with thoughtful and balanced commentary. I have not seen anything like it.” 
—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams 

“A fascinating and thought-provoking book that should appeal to everyone—doctors, patients, and cloned Neanderthals alike.”
A. J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically

“Important and provocative. Physician, lawyer, and bioethicist: what a perfect trifecta for the author of a book on ethical issues in medicine.  I read it from start to finish in one sitting.”
—Jon LaPook, M.D., Chief Medical Correspondent, CBS News
“Dr. Appel adroitly places the dangerous flames of ethical dilemmas into a terrarium for careful examination so we don’t burn ourselves.”
—Mehmet Oz, M.D, Professor of Surgery, Columbia University, host ofThe Dr. Oz Show
“Dr. Appel in his extraordinary book has done a service for the public and health professionals by clearly illustrating the present and evolving medical ethical issues before us. This is a provocative and informative read for all!”
—Richard Carmona, MD,MPH,FACS, 17th Surgeon General of the United States
“The most thorough set of challenges in tightly reasoned and highly readable scenarios that should be read not only by students and teachers, but by every member of Congress before they vote on issues with ethical implications, which is nearly every vote.  An important contribution to philosophy and science. I dare you to try a few.”
—Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, monthly columnist Scientific American, author The Moral Arc
“This book will enliven your dinner conversation for months to come. Not only is Who Says You're Dead? is a lot of fun; its topic—how technology and ethics co-evolve—is of the utmost importance.”
—William Poundstone, author of Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up
“I couldn’t put it down. Dr. Appel offers analyses that are spot on! Every medical student should be made to read this book.  Whether compelling them to do that is ethical or not is an easy choice.”
—Joe Schwarcz, host of “The Dr. Joe Show” and author of A Feast of Science
Who Says You're Dead? entertains as it educates. Dr. Appel ranges from organ transplantation to embryo custody to voluntary castration and confidentiality laws and, yes, even to the cloning of Neanderthals.  It is an exotic journey, and strongly recommended.”
—E. Fuller Torrey, author of Emerging Brains, Emerging Gods
“Jacob Appel is a doctor, lawyer, bio-ethicist, and terrific writer—the perfect person to pose fascinating ethical conundrums and guide us toward practical answers. The biggest messes in modern medicine result when medical technology outpaces medical ethics. This lively book helps right the balance.”
—Allen Frances, MD, chair of the DSM-IV Task Force and author of Saving Normal
“When life seems too simple or dull, open this book. Pick a conundrum, any conundrum. Within a few minutes, you'll be transported into imagining your life as impossibly complex and your decisions absolutely vital. This is a fascinating exercise.”
—Jay Allison, producer and host of NPR’s This I Believe