This review originally appeared on WorldOfJoel.com
This might seem like an odd book choice to some, but ever since writing my senior paper in college on the Sociology of Aging, I've always had a fascination with not only the process of getting older but what happens at the very end of our life. I remember vividly an interview that Jon Stewart did on The Daily Show with Atul Gawande and being utterly fascinated by his book Being Mortal. It's taken me almost three years to read it but I'm really glad I did.
Atul is a surgeon, and his primary thesis in Being Mortal is about the doctors and patient roles at the end of one's life. He uses personal examples and others that he sought out for the book to discuss the problem with modern medicine and how it conflicts with people's wishes at the end of their life. Modern medicine says we need to fix what's wrong with you, while often time patients just want to pass away with dignity and grace.
I'd say there are three things that Atul tackles head on. The first is assisted living which he describes as an extension of a hospital rather than a place to live and enjoy the remaining time of your life. The second is hospice and the desire for people to finish their lives in their homes while controlling pain rather than doing unneeded surgery. And third, he hits the point over and over again that families are ill-prepared for any decision that comes up, and the need for planning.
It's really fascinating and it would be hard for me to argue much of anything that he recommends. I found Being Mortal to be an extremely tough book to read not because of its writing but because of the personal stories he shares. Not everyone receives a dignified or storybook conclusion to their life and his telling of examples of when modern medicine failed the patient are tragic. I do believe that Being Mortal is an important novel and one that in this time of health care debates is one that should be read by more people. It's also a novel that's hard to recommend when its contents are as tough to digest as they are.
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