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ss nucleus - May 2016,  Being Mortal – Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal – Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande

Profile Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1846685828

The inevitability of old age and death is rarely spoken; yet is of utmost importance in modern medicine. Death has become a medicalised, clinical experience; no longer black and white. Medicine often falls short when providing care for the frail and dying. Secular American surgeon Gawande begins 'I learned a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn't one of them'. He gives insight into non-Christian perspectives of mortality.

Using personal clinical encounters along with his own family and friends, Gawande illustrates changes in attitudes to old age and dying. Early chapters explore the aging process and its end in dependence on others. Idealistic aims of assisted living and nursing homes are challenged, and alternative models of ensuring elderly people live autonomous, fulfilled lives suggested. The second half of the book begins with the shocking story of Sara, aged 34, pregnant, and with metastatic lung cancer. Her example highlights clinical striving to prolong lives at any cost, avoiding difficult end-of-life conversations. He concludes medicine should strive for 'well-being', described as 'what people live for'. Even as Christians, mortality and dying are difficult subjects. Being Mortal identifies issues to consider, but does not give many answers to these questions. Would this be different from a Christian perspective?

Rebecca Parsonson is a clinical medical student in Cardiff.

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