Atul Gawande. 2014. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York: Metropolitan Books. $26.00. Hardback. Pp. 282. ISBN: 978–8050‐9515–9.

AuthorBonnie Stabile
Published date01 June 2015
Date01 June 2015
Book Review
Atul Gawande. 2014. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New
York: Metropolitan Books. $26.00. Hardback. Pp. 282. ISBN: 978–8050-9515–9.
“It beats the alternative,” is what my mother used to say whenever someone
complained about getting old. Whatever its attendant indignities or inf‌irmities,
she reasoned, being alive was still preferable to dying. In Being Mortal, Atul
Gawande, a surgeon and bestselling author, suggests that we have reached a
turning point for this way of thinking. Modern medical technology, which has
achieved some seemingly miraculous victories, has also reached certain limits
that Gawande urges us to acknowledge. “Decline remains our fate; death will
someday come” he tell us (p. 44). Despite its starkness, his message is ultimately
more soothing than disturbing, for he suggests a path forward to enhance quality
of life and alleviate the suffering caused by the pervasive practice of over-
medicalized death.
Gawande seeks to relieve suffering at the end of life by encouraging dialogue
among physicians, family members, and would-be patients about the role medical
interventions should play in end-of-life care. “What should medicine do when it
can’t save your life?” was the subtitle of Gawande’s 2010 New Yorker article,
“Letting Go,” and some of the stories introduced there are included in Being
Mortal. The f‌irst recounts his experience as one of the physicians participating in
the aggressive treatment of patient Sara Thomas Monopoli’s cancer, which left
him feeling complicit in offering her false hope, and guilty of contributing to a
diminished quality of life in her f‌inal days. The poignancy of her position is
underscored by the fact that her diagnosis and treatment came during her f‌irst
pregnancy and limited days as a new mother. When it became apparent that
Sara’s cancer could not be cured, Gawande ref‌lects that being honest with her
about the likely futility of treatment would have allowed her to spend her
inevitable f‌inal days enjoying time with her baby as best she could, rather than
with drainage tubes in her chest, “shortness of breath, dry heaves, coughing up
blood, [and] severe fatigue” brought on by chemotherapy and surgery (p. 169).
While Sara’s suffering was initially precipitated by the lung cancer ravaging her
body, and no one would have suggested forgoing treatment that could have
World Medical & Health Policy, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2015
1948-4682 #2015 Policy Studies Organization
Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX42 DQ.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT