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Being mortal

Medicine and What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our  biology, with the limits set of genes and cells and flesh and bone.”  Death is terrifying because of its uncertainty (mental sufferings) and  its torturous plains (physical sufferings). Two big pillars examined in  the book are about aging and terminal illness, which respectively bring  people’s last chapter of life to nursing  homes and risky & painful surgical tables. These decisions to end  one’s life becomes a (new) norm when modern medication has granted us  the power to push this boundary further. But there is a limit, and it  will forever be a limit.

The book helped me to understand what  really is the job of doctors. Why are many older people mentally  distressed in institutionalized nursing homes where they are no  different from prisoners? They are woken up, bathed, given meals, put to  sleep according to a predetermined schedule. Why do many literally  spend their last chapters of life with narcotics, radiation treatments,  chemotherapies, artificial tubes, in plain and unconsciousness? Is there  any better way when one knows he/she will soon leave the Earth?

This book answers yes, and I found it wholly humane and sincere though  not easy. It turns out that we always have a bigger purpose in their  life even in the last minutes, rather than merely prolonging their life.  People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle  relationships, establish their legacies, and make sure those who are  left behind will be ok. These ultimate purposes, however, are frequently  out of sight when the patients are frightened by vaguely defined values  and without doctors’ guide.

The book is all about the role of  doctors in helping patients to navigate within the uncertainties and  opt for the right direction based on their last priorities. Sometimes,  the decision to give up surgery or stop a ventilator is tremendously  hard for their loved one; only the patient knows what he/she prioritizes  the most.

Summer 2020

April 21, 2020 at 3:00:00 PM


philosophy, non-fiction, science


Being mortal
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