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

Dr. Gawande walks readers through the history of American care of the infirm, elderly and dying. He tells of hospitals and nursing homes, of assisted living facilities and hospice programs. He points out how medical science marches us along, even at the end of life, bull-headedly trying new ways to extend life,  thereby sometimes torturing our bodies with pain and suffering, trying our human souls with false hope and unrealistic expectations, putting our families through hell.

Doctors and medical science have a large and looming role in our lives but, as Dr. Gawande writes, physics and biology always win the mortal battles. Time takes every one of us. Within the time we have,  our human needs for companionship, self-determination, pleasure, peace and the satisfaction of brave personal choices remain. Handing our lives over to medical professionals for their best efforts until finally they throw up their hands in surrender and walk away, leaving us alone in our last mortal hours, is a fool’s bargain. Dr. Gawande hopes we might claim the limited hours of our lives, even the last of them, and look for reconciliation, memory, human connection and hope, or whatever we need in them, whatever we can find in them, until the end.

The dying might be comforted by the thought of a ritual of remembering that will follow their deaths, acts of tradition and hope performed by the living that turn death back into life.

In his wise and humane book. Dr. Gawande argues for thoughtful attention to human needs at the end of life. He invites us to accept our mortality, to bravely claim whatever time we have, and to try to fill it with our own best desires and choices.

2 thoughts on “Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

  1. This reminds me of the Victorian ideal of family around the deathbed. The person on the bed uttering good words and maybe a nod to the heavens.

    My father wrote us letters before he died, but what meant more was the few hours we had with him. He’d played the ritual out in his head so many times (since he always thought he was dying) and like a good entertainer he got it right. 🙂


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