After watching both my grandmothers, several aunts, and an uncle die from dementia, I’m concerned about end-of-life care because the solution of warehousing mentally and physically impaired older adults is not an adequate solution. The family can continue to work while knowing their elders are “safe.” But it does nothing to increase the quality of life that the safety allows.
No one reaches age 60 without encountering cancers, heart attacks, and other disabling diseases in loved ones or yourself. For instance, I’ve lost a father, several uncles, and several aunts to cancer alone. Their ends are agonizing to watch.
In Being Mortal, surgeon Atul Gawande confronts these and other issues of aging and fatal diseases with directness and honesty. He explains why the western health industry has wound up in its current state. But he, like many others, is troubled by the system’s inadequacies and unintentional cruelty towards those it aims to help.
In this book, he offers many refreshing examples of alternatives, like adding animals, children, and gardens to the elderly’s environment. He suggests letting those living out their final years make bad decisions for their lives. After all, they deserve the dignity of choosing how to live as they grow increasingly infirm. The biggest fear most have is losing their independence in daily life. He also explains why he is a big fan of hospice.
This book is well-written, clear, and full of stories that most of us can relate to. Some of his real-life examples are horrible to contemplate, like the stage IV lung cancer detected in the mother of a newborn baby. The book was published in 2014, so some of it is likely outdated. I would love for Gawande to revise it. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it to anyone who will face end-of-life choices one day, and that includes us all.