By Chet Yarbrough
By Dr. Richard Shepard
Narrated by Dr. Richard Shepard
Dr. Richard Shepard (Author, UK Pathologist who investigated many celebrity deaths including Princess Diana.)
Dr. Richard Shepard is an English forensic pathologist. In a cathartic examination of his profession, Shepard reveals how obsessiveness is a boon and bane in life. From youth to late middle age, Shepard reflects on his life.
In “Unnatural Causes”, Shepard examines the causes of others’ death. With ever-present foreshadowing, a listener recognizes a man who is going to experience a mid-life crisis.
In Shepard’s dissection of life, many male listeners will see their own narcissistic lives. The expense of self-absorption is delusion, and often divorce. For a male obsessed with a career, the cost of delusion is a crisis of personal identity.
The cost of divorce is different for men than for women. The biggest cost of divorce is paid by a wife. She not only loses a part of her identity; she loses the security of family, friends, and income.
Shepard does not overtly acknowledge the inequity of divorce, but one senses his feeling of guilt.
The personal part of Shepard’s story is a sad commentary on relationship between men and women in the modern world. It is a picture of many men who grow old with their first wife and abandon them when youth has been spent.
The primary purpose of Shepard’s book is not to explain men’s narcissism but to explore the profession of forensic science.
There is no question that Shepard’s experience qualifies him as an expert in the field. From terrorist events in England and 9/11 in the U.S. to the death of Princess Diana, Shepard practices his profession as a revered and respected pathologist. He explains his obsession for “cause for death” from childhood.
Having lost his mother at an early age, her absence motivates Shepard to understand what causes death. Though unsure of himself when he first encounters dissection of a human being, Shepard notes how curiosity shuts out any discomforting feelings in cutting and examining internal organs of a human corpse. His focus is on finding the true cause of death.
In the course of Shepard’s career, his search for “cause of death” is found to be difficult, but not because of death’s pathology.
Shepard explains how political pressure from the public, the police, and the judicial system influences diagnosis of death. The public may want to know the “cause of death” because of preconceived notions. The police may want to know the “cause of death: because of their perception of someone’s guilt or innocence. The judicial system may want “cause of death” based on witnesses for the defense or prosecution. To Shepard, what someone wants is not relevant. Only the truth is relevant.
Shepard’s conviction that truth is all that matters leads to a professional crisis.
A less than reputable couple lose their child to what Shepard concludes is SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Based on Shepard’s diagnosis, the couple is set free. Years later, the couple has another child. Both parents are alcoholics according to reports given in Shepard’s account of the case. Years after Shepard’s SIDS determination, a second pathologists reviews the record and finds what he believes to have been child abuse. The court agrees with the new pathologist and the child is taken from the parents. Shepard is brought before a board of inquiry to determine whether he should keep his license.
Shepard’s book is worthy of a listener’s time to find out what the board of inquiry decides. Both the personal and public crises Shepard faces will resonate with anyone who has obsessively pursued a career and had his/her personal integrity challenged.
There is a poignant relationship between Shepard’s story and the grilling of Amy Coney Barrett’s pursuit of a seat on the Supreme Court.
Her truth is not everyone’s truth. To challenge her belief in the role of a justice of the Supreme Court places her squarely in Shepard’s story of judgement by a board of inquiry.
There is the added benefit of hearing how “inequality of the sexes” is a deeply rooted social phenomena.