Summary and book reviews of Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal

Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande X
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

Introduction

I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn't one of them. Although I was given a dry, leathery corpse to dissect in my first term, that was solely a way to learn about human anatomy. Our textbooks had almost nothing on aging or frailty or dying. How the process unfolds, how people experience the end of their lives, and how it affects those around them seemed beside the point. The way we saw it, and the way our professors saw it, the purpose of medical schooling was to teach how to save lives, not how to tend to their demise. The one time I remember discussing mortality was during an hour we spent on The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy's classic novella. It was in a weekly seminar called Patient-Doctor—part of the school's effort to make us more rounded and humane physicians. Some weeks we would practice our physical examination etiquette; other weeks we'd learn about the effects of socioeconomics and race on health. And one afternoon we ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The recipient of numerous awards and widespread acclaim, Atul Gawande's Being Mortal has secured a position among the bestselling medical books of all time. In the years since it was first published, Being Mortal has become a cultural touchstone that has profoundly altered the way we think about end of life care. From those confronting their own mortality or that of a loved one to medical professionals guiding patients through their final days, readers of all backgrounds have connected with Gawande's insights on death and dignity.

Being Mortal has been lauded as an invaluable tool by doctors, nurses, nursing home directors, hospice care workers, and funeral home directors. Academics and clergy have incorporated it into their ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Being Mortal. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

"It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death," In what ways do you relate to that fear or not? What do you fear most about what happens short of death?
I'm 80 years old, and death does not scare me. I've live a full life with both joys and sorrows, and at 80 years of age, no one depends on me, so I feel that I've "served my purpose" and any good time from here on out is dessert! Obviously I don't ... - Jan Mays

As Dr. Gawande learns the limitations of being Dr. Informative, how did your perception of doctors and what you want from them change? What would you want from your doctor if you faced a serious illness?
I don't think what I want from a doctor changed at all. I have always been one to seek out doctors that treat me like a person and not a disease. Even with my high blood pressure, we discuss things and then I choose what medications I'm willing to ... - scottishrose

As you consider the life you want lead in old age, what does home mean to you?
Home is a place that is familiar -- a place which brings me comfort. I will very likely have to move in the not too far off future. And, very likely will be doing it alone (Husband not well and much older). It will be hard - leaving my present ... - karenj

Based on your reading of this book, what piecs of advice would you give to someone younger than you, a peer, and someone older?
Yes, I agree with above. Shop around for the right doctor, and be assertive about your care. For younger people, realize that aging is part of life and not something to avoid looking at. My husband didn't want our "kids" (oldest is 37) to see his 91-... - juliep

Did you read Alice Hobson's story as an inspiring one, or as a cautionary tale?
It is a cautionary tale. I think it is hard to force the medical profession to acknowledge that death is a fact of life and in many situations the bestfor everyone. Too often the discussion appears to be an issue of money versus life, but mere life... - paulagb

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    Indie Booksellers’ Choice Awards
    2015

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Many people are not comfortable contemplating their own aging and mortality. Nevertheless, I finished Being Mortal feeling like this is an important book and one that I would be eager to discuss with others. I highly recommend it; although it's nonfiction, it's extremely engaging and should hold the attention of fiction lovers as well as those who prefer books in the social sciences. Most will undoubtedly come away with a new perspective on these important issues.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

A needed call to action, a cautionary tale of what can go wrong, and often does, when a society fails to engage in a sustained discussion about aging and dying.

The Boston Globe

Being Mortal, Atul Gawande's masterful exploration of aging, death, and the medical profession's mishandling of both, is his best and most personal book yet.

Wall Street Journal (Best Books of 2014)

Dr. Gawande’s book is not of the kind that some doctors write, reminding us how grim the fact of death can be. Rather, he shows how patients in the terminal phase of their illness can maintain important qualities of life.

Kirkus Reviews

A sensitive, intelligent and heartfelt examination of the processes of aging and dying.

Time.com

Beautifully crafted ...Being Mortal is a clear-eyed, informative exploration of what growing old means in the 21st century . . . a book I cannot recommend highly enough. This should be mandatory reading for every American.

The Chicago Tribune

Masterful . . . Essential . . . For more than a decade, Atul Gawande has explored the fault lines of medicine ...combining his years of experience as a surgeon with his gift for fluid, seemingly effortless storytelling.

The New York Review of Books

Beautifully written ...In his newest and best book, Gawande . . . has provided us with a moving and clear-eyed look at aging and death in our society, and at the harms we do in turning it into a medical problem, rather than a human one.

Nature

A surgeon himself, Gawande is eloquent about the inadequacy of medical school in preparing doctors to confront the subject of death with their patients. . . . it is rare to read a book that sparks with so much hard thinking.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Atul Gawande's wise and courageous book raises the questions that none of us wants to think about ...Remarkable.

The Economist (uk) - Best Books of 2014

Eloquent, moving.

The Financial Times (UK)

Gawande’s book is so impressive that one can believe that it may well [change the medical profession] . . . May it be widely read and inwardly digested.

Author Blurb Malcolm Gladwell
American medicine, Being Mortal reminds us, has prepared itself for life but not for death. This is Atul Gawande's most powerful--and moving--book.

Author Blurb Oliver Sacks
Being Mortal is not only wise and deeply moving, it is an essential and insightful book for our times, as one would expect from Atul Gawande, one of our finest physician writers.

Reader Reviews

Peggy

Warning: Aging-Approach with Caution!
This book adds greatly to the conversation of aging, death, and quality of life issues. It goes further than most by flipping the discussion on its head by not defining a "good death" but rather the a "good life". One should ...   Read More

Dot

What you should know as you age
Well written, author provides insight to the issues of people as they age and the things they need to consider as they age. A must for Boomers and their family.

Gloria

Recommended reading
Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal" actually made me feel better about growing older and, eventually, frailer. Just knowing that there are people like him that are trying to make longer lives better lives gives me great comfort. This book should ...   Read More

Nancy

Palliative Care
This should be required reading for anyone over 30.....what Gwande has to say is important.....we are all mortal and at some point the effort to cure should be replaced with the effort to provide humane support and freedom from pain....to end our ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Hospice Care

Hospice is a medical specialty that focuses on end-of-life care for individuals and support for their families. Its roots come from the Latin for hostis meaning stranger, and more specifically from hospitem meaning a guesthouse - from these roots we also get hospital, hotel and hospitality.

The idea of caring for those suffering from fatal diseases has been around for centuries. In the Middle Ages, religious orders established shelters along pilgrimage routes designed to aid those journeying to and from sacred sites, many of whom were terminally ill, and are considered the original form of hospice care. The idea was expanded in the 16th through 18th centuries, when monasteries began opening facilities for those who were impoverished and...

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