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'Being Mortal' Is A Bold Vision

Being Mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology.” This is Atul Gawande’s observation in his important new book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. He is the author of three previous books, including The Checklist Manifesto, in which he boldly calls for a surgical checklist to be performed before any surgery, anywhere. This may seem like common sense, but there was no such practice in place.

In Being Mortal, Dr. Gawande describes a study in which a controlled group of patients over the age of 72 were less likely to become disabled, to develop depression, or to need home health care if they were seen by a geriatrics team instead of their regular physician. At the University of Minnesota, where the study was conducted, the geriatrics division was closing down due to expense.

He shares the experience of his father, who had articulated his end-of-life desires to a medical team. Gawande ushers his friend and children’s piano teacher through the end of her life by asking her what she wants to accomplish in the end. Her wish is to continue to teach. And she does, for six weeks.

Gawande shows how care for the dying can be improved by reckoning with the process of dying. His bold vision is a call to disrupt the status quo.