A Matter of Life and Death: Conversations with Pathologists by Sue Armstrong - review by Brian Masters

Brian Masters

Down On The Body Farm

A Matter of Life and Death: Conversations with Pathologists


Canongate 375pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

In separate conversations with eighteen eminent medical men and women engaged in various branches of pathology, Sue Armstrong rigidly limits herself to asking the questions, thus enabling the doctors to describe what they do, why they do it, and what they strive to achieve in their work. The common thread that unites them all is the desire to serve life or, as Professor Derrick Pounder says, ‘we’re in the business of investigating the dead in order to assist the living’. In the light of prurient entertainment and imaginative fictions, this needs to be stated more firmly than ever, and the point of this book is to celebrate the cool science of forensic pathology over the misguided myths and mistakes of traditional medicine. In so doing, it clarifies some triumphs of discovery as well as coughing up some astonishing curiosities. 

Probably the most topical and controversial area of potential progress is that of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, otherwise known as stem-cell research. Knowledge is still only beginning to emerge from the work, but the doctors themselves are in no doubt that the future is revolutionary and exciting.

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