Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
“How we seek to spend our time may depend on how much we perceive ourselves to have.”
“We want autonomy for ourselves and safety for those we love.”
This book should be read by everyone who expects to die, which excuses half of us. Americans today deny that life will end, often in unpleasant circumstances. Our head-in-the-sand attitude only makes our dilemma worse.
“Twenty-five percent of all Medicare spending is for five percent of patients in the final year of life … most of little apparent benefit.”
Better solutions are possible, but we have to seek and demand them. Left to themselves, the medical and government communites will treat us like high-cost, low-success science experiments.
“The closing phase of a modern life often looks like a mounting series of crises from which medicine can offer only brief and temporary rescue.”
“All people’s capacities wane. Making their lives better often requires curbing our purely medical imperatives.”
With compassion and diligence Gawanda explores the origins and development of current American attitudes and institutions related to serious illness and dying. Some of his findings are surprising. Many are relevant to those planning care for themselves or a loved one.
“People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives.”
“Our ultimate goal is not a good death, but a good life to the very end.”
Gawande is the master of the epigram. Excuse me if I’ve quoted him too heavily.
“We want to retain the autonomy–the freedom–to be the authors of our lives.”
As Hindu skeptic, Gawande distances himself from his subject as militant atheists and devout Christians might not, though he respects those who adhere to communities of faith. As many Hindus may be offended by his perspective as non-Hindus, but he provides valuable information and anecdotes of where we are and where we might go.
“Mistakes we fear most–the mistake of prolonging suffering [versus] the mistake of shortening valued life.”
(Paperback available in September 2017)
“Arriving at an acceptance of one’s mortality … is a process, not an epiphany.”
“Understanding the finitude of one’s time could be a gift.”