Over My Dead Body by Hazel McHaffie is a novel that raises questions such as would you be an organ donor, or agree to donating your child’s heart, or eyes. I’ve never read a novel that considered these issues, so when Hazel McHaffie contacted me and asked if I would read and review her book it didn’t take me long to write back, ‘yes please’. She is very well qualified to write such a book – a nurse and midwife, with a PhD in Social Sciences, and a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics.
Synopsis (from Hazel McHaffie’s website):
Carole Beacham is in her mid-sixties and planning to leave her husband. Before she can do so her daughter, Elvira, and two little granddaughters are involved in a fatal road traffic accident. Then a stranger appears in the Intensive Care Unit claiming to be Elvira’s boyfriend, insisting Elvira wanted to donate her organs. But Carole has her own reasons for rejecting such a possibility: a dark family secret which has been hidden for thirty years.
She’s torn in two, but gradually her need to respect Elvira’s wishes overcomes her fear, and the transplants go ahead. Letters from grateful recipients bring comfort and Carole’s dread recedes. Then the barriers created to safeguard anonymity start to slip. A troubling communication from a publishing firm … a moving poem from a teenager … an ambitious would-be journalist … and the family’s peace is in grave danger.
This is a fascinating, compassionate and informative book, the factual information fitting seamlessly into the narrative. The characters are realistic, so much so that at times I had to stop reading because their predicaments and situations were so poignant and difficult.
I’m familiar with some of the issues surrounding transplants, having watched Casualty and Holby City for years. But there is nothing to beat reading a book written by someone who knows the issues, writes with sensitivity and can go into much more depth than an isolated incident in a TV drama series can. The story is told through a number of the characters’ eyes and poses the questions, thoughts and fears they each have about organ transplants – from both the recipients’ and the donor families’ points of view. Carole fears that her daughter could recover or they could find a miracle cure and it would be too late to bring her back. Some people are worried about the personalities of the recipients – do they deserve the transplant, is their lifestyle healthy enough and so on.
Above all it is a moving story, well-told and with an element of mystery – just what is it in Elvira’s background that causes her family concern? From little hints that were dropped I guessed what it was, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. Over My Dead Body certainly gave me much to think about.
Hazel McHaffie’s other novels cover medical ethic issues such as Alzheimer’s and the right to die. Her non-fiction books are about life and death decisions.