An Important Book: Being Mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought that I had thought all the necessary questions about end-of-life decisions, and I had thought many. But Gawande opens up new questions for evaluating those issues.

Gawande also opens up new ways to think about dealing with debilitating changes forced by disease or age. He offers a critique of traditional nursing homes, of what “assisted living” has become, and of medical practice based more on procedures than persons. His illustrations with case studies–some showing failure, others showing success–take the book beyond theory to readable.

Gawande challenges the narrow focus on safety and extending life and replaces it with concern for quality of life. He notes that people making quality-of-life decisions for patients often think in terms of what they, themselves, want, not what the patient would want. He questions the Maslow hierarchy’s application to all ages and stages. “Freedom to be the author of our lives” within whatever circumstances we are dealt becomes primary. He offers discussion questions for medical personnel and family to use to understand what the patient sees as desirable quality of life, then urges discussion of ways to accomplish it.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “An Important Book: Being Mortal

  1. This is a terrific book. We heard him speak last year and he is an excellent speaker, as well.

  2. Helen

    Definitely will read. You are a wonderful writer!

  3. We have been facing many of those questions the last 8 years that MIL has been living with us. I feel certain that if she had gone to a nursing home, the only alternative for her conditions, she would have been long gone by now. This sounds like a book that would help us with decisions in these final days … and to plan for our own end-of-life. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. This sounds like a very useful and thought provoking book. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  5. dezertsuz

    Your reading is so eclectic. My boys know what I consider quality, and I hope they will stick with that, if the time comes they have to decide anything. I’m really hoping they don’t have to. Paul was really strong about his ideas, and now I’m glad I listened, though at the time it was very difficult. Thanks for telling me about the book.

  6. Thank you for this. It sounds like a book I’ll want to read. As a family we made a lot of hard decisions and choices to allow my mother to die peacefully and painlessly at home, surrounded by her family. I don’t think one of us would change the things we gave up to make this possible. Our last days are as important as our first and middle days, and deserve equal respect and consideration.

  7. I haven’t read this book, but I loved his book, Complications. I’ll have to take a look at this one, too.

  8. A footnote to my earlier comment: I bought this book for my Kindle, to be hospital reading, and I am very grateful for the recommendation. It has made me reconsider the rather open-ended DNR requests my husband and I have filled out, and what we might want to prioritise in our end of life decisions. In return let me recommend the fascinating ‘Emperor of All Maladies: a biography of Cancer’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It charts the history of cancer treatments, research and learning from the earliest days of brutal surgery to today’s gene therapy. It’s hard reading sometimes, not because of the writing, but because of the subject. The writing is beautiful.

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