Being mortal by Atul Gawande

How do we gauge quality of life? Is a longer life necessarily better than a shorter life? How should the medical profession deal with end-of-life care? Is it enough to preserve life at all costs? Or are there other priorities, namely the patient’s priorities, that should be taken into consideration?

Being mortalAtul Gawande, surgeon, Harvard professor and a writer for the New Yorker, re-casts the whole debate, holding up for scrutiny the manner in which the medical profession has dealt with these issues, especially as our knowledge of how to preserve life grows ever more sophisticated.

Via a wealth of case studies, including that of his own father, he wants to re-shape our thinking about the preservation of life ‘at all costs’, and focus our attention more on helping each individual achieve his or her own goals, especially when faced with the ultimate decisions. If time left to a patient is short, do they really want to undergo painful and risky treatment that might (at best) add a few more months or weeks to their lives, or accept palliative care in order to simply improve the quality of the life that remains?

Gawande is a thoughtful and insightful communicator, not only in his writing, but also in his lecturing. To find out for yourself, listen to any of the four Reith Lectures he is currently giving on BBC Radio 4:

And for the panel discussion on Radio 4’s Saturday Review, which covers this book, click on this link, and fast forward 9 minutes into the programme.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on December 6, 2014, in Book reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. See, this is a tough one that really depends on who the “they” is that gets to decide what care I get when time is short. Too often this falls on to a board of some type (we call them death panels here) who looks at a sliding scale that says, “well this fella is ‘x’ years old so he gets pain meds instead of a kidney or this other fella had to recover from alcoholism 35 years ago so even though he’s healthy as an ox otherwise, that liver transplant is a no-go. In cases of abuse, I guess I can understand to an extent. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be on the bad end of that decision either. All health care is turning into this: it’s great as long as you don’t need it. That’s not healthcare.

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