The full review can be found here.
Joralemon explores dilemmas that arise in five end-of-life challenges: assisted dying, uncertain mental states, the definition of death, the role of grief, and memorialization.
My favorite aspect of the book is Joralemon's nuanced response to the idea that the U.S. is a death-denying culture. The increasing "medicalization" of the dying process has pushed death out of public view and into intensive care units, long-term care facilities, and rehab centers. And time constraints at work now prevent us from spending extensive time with our dying loved ones. All this conspires to suggest that Americans are just looking for ways to stop thinking about death, to avoid it until we can't help it. But Joralemon argues that this is an overly simplistic conclusion. Many American sub-cultures, such as those belonging to some Mexican Americans and Jewish groups, maintain elaborate rituals to honor the dead or dying loved one. Further, the conclusion that Americans deny death ignores an important change in the relationship between biological death and social death—the ritual and emotional behaviors we engage in to come to terms with the separation caused by biological death.
Before contemporary medicine allowed us the ability to prolong life and diagnose terminal diseases, we could not start the process of separation from our loved one (social death) until the loved one had died (biological death). But shifting medical and economic conditions now force us to start the social dying process earlier, before biological death. We begin to move on while our dying loved ones are still alive. This creates new tensions in the dying process, and requires both the dying and the non-dying to take a greater responsibility in the emotional and relational aspects of dying. But rather than denying death, it simply forces us to respond to death differently. It also empowers the dying loved one to exert greater control over the social--and increasingly, the biological--process of dying.
As you'll see in the full review, my biggest complaint is Joralemon's lack of engagement with philosophical bioethics. Though he does a nice job elucidating the legal, medical, and political dimensions of these debates, he does not acknowledge the enormous contributions from philosophers. While this lacuna might have been motivated by intellectual humility, avoiding literature he doesn't feel qualified to address, his discussions reveal a lack even of familiarity with the philosophical contributions, and this influences his conclusions in non-trivial ways.