Medicine has triumphed in modern times. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should. Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, reveals the suffering this dynamic has produced.
...a valuable contribution to the growing literature on aging, death and dying. It contains unsparing descriptions of bodily aging and the way it often takes us by surprise. Gawande is a gifted storyteller, and there are some stirring, even tear-inducing passages here. The writing can be evocative ... The stories give a dignified voice to older people in the process of losing their independence. We see the world from their perspective, not just those of their physicians and worried family members ... One of his most provocative arguments is that hard-won health and safety reporting requirements for elder care facilities might satisfy family members, but ignore what really matters to the residents in question ... Some of the ideas, however, strain credibility, such as that an increase in people dying in the home in America beginning in the 1990s might reflect a stage when a 'country’s income climbs to the highest levels' ... Gawande offers a succinct discussion of euthanasia at the end of the book ... He is just asking us to commit ourselves to creating better options and making choices with the goal of a purposeful life in mind.
Gawande offers portraits of families struggling with this question, portraits that are attuned to the nuances of intergenerational relationships that make this such a fraught subject ... Gawande's book carefully, gently guides us along the path from the onset of aging and decline and into the wilderness of end-of-life medical care and death. It's already clear that this is an uncomfortable read, one that arouses a sense of indignation and perhaps shame that we've allowed the nursing home industry to define solutions for elder care. But when Gawande dives into his true area of expertise, the medical options offered to the terminally ill, it becomes devastatingly clear how delusional our culture has become about death and dying ... One of the triumphs of Being Mortal is in its language: Because these subjects are so difficult, people all too often invoke treacly platitudes or, in the case of the ludicrous 'death panels' controversy, toxic, fear-driven catch phrases. Gawande's writing is clear and concise and yet gentle and humane. And most important, honest. He finds a way to talk about death and dying safely.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande’s masterful exploration of aging, death, and the medical profession’s mishandling of both, is his best and most personal book yet — though a little depressing, until you get to the parakeets ... There’s not much laughter, birdsong, or good news in the rest of Being Mortal, but this book is no lament ... Gawande begins by contrasting the final years of his wife’s grandmother in America with those of his own grandfather in India. These two stories illustrate the central paradox that runs throughout Being Mortal: Sophisticated medical care does not guarantee and often actually prevents a good end of life ... Particularly inspiring are the stories of patients who made hard decisions about balancing their desire to live longer with their desire to live better.