The Spirit Ambulance: Choreographing the End of Life in Thailand

2021 Honorable Mention

The Spirit Ambulance:

Choreographing the End of Life in Thailand

by Scott Stonington

Prize Committee:
Naveeda Khan (chair), Elizabeth Ferry, Sameena Mulla and Hoon Song

From the Publishers:
The Spirit Ambulance is a journey into decision-making at the end of life in Thailand, where families attempt to craft good deaths for their elders in the face of clashing ethical frameworks, from a rapidly developing universal medical system, to national and global human-rights politics, to contemporary movements in Buddhist metaphysics. Scott Stonington’s gripping ethnography documents how Thai families attempt to pay back a “debt of life” to their elders through intensive medical care, followed by a medically assisted rush from the hospital to home to ensure a spiritually advantageous last breath. The result is a powerful exploration of the nature of death and the complexities arising from the globalization of biomedical expertise and ethics around the world.

From the Prize Committee:
Scott Stonington’s The Spirit Ambulance receives honorable mention for delving into a difficult topic, that of the management of the end of life in the context of Thailand, with tremendous sensitivity. The ethnography tugged at our hearts even as we exclaimed over the adroitness with which people brought together health infrastructures, spiritual concepts, and infrastructures of communication, from roads to ambulances, to manage the successful choreography of the end of life, often in the face of tremendous odds.