So far, so good for me with AdSense. The ads are targeted quite well, and while I haven't had any clicks yet (being as that they're only on my newly created and approved site at the moment and one other side project site), but they seem to target quite well.
As for the thought of the word "death" being a blocker, I think that might depend on the advertiser. My site deals with supplements, in particular of the variety that have been linked to the deaths of some people. But this actually seems to help in my case, as there are apparently trial lawyers out there who are seeking this out. I'd suggest that it entirely depends on the topic.
Google has no problem with me putting the AdSense ads on sites that were rejected before, so long as they don't violate the TOS. My personal webpage is one I'd love to put ads on; it's really more of an online editorial page than anything. I e-mailed Google to clarify, and they wrote back saying I can run AdSense on any pages I like, so long as they are within Google's TOS. They said if they have a problem with a page I have the AdSense material on, they'd let me know. Hmm. I might give it a try -- my intent is not to expand beyond the rules, but the rules do not explicitly ban personal pages. So I figure I'll put it on a page or two as a test, and if Google takes me to task on it I'll pull it off.
Overall, it seems that Google has an intuitive, user-friendly and excellent system in place. It's certainly not perfect, but I haven't seen anything else remotely as good in my experiences with internet advertising...