Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

February 6, 2016 Book Review, reviews 12

Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Published by Metropolitan Books on October 7th 2014
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 282
Source: purchased


With the population of the aging skyrocketing over the past few years more & more thought leaders are looking at what it means to care for the aging. Physician and Harvard Medical School Professor, Atul Gawande, is exceptionally qualified to share his opinion and analysis of death, dying and living while dying. Speaking from both his professional background and his personal situation of caring for aging parents, Gawande makes a particularly relevant case for a revamping of the ‘nursing’ home concept of caring for the elderly.

Your chances of avoiding the nursing home are directly related to the number of children you have.

We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being.

Of particular note to me was Gawande made it clear that the nursing home method is the least favorable. Yes, there are some really great nursing homes to be found – the problem comes when patients in the nursing home are required to adhere to the nursing home schedule – eat at this time, sleep at that time, wake up at this time, etc. etc. Of course for the ease of caring for all the patients a regimented schedule is necessary, but I know that I for one would resist every second of it.

The situation is not entirely bleak as Gawande shares in the last few chapters. There are people such as Karen Wilson and Dr. Bill Thomas being true innovators in the care of senior adults & end-of-life care.

…terminally ill cancer patients who were put on a mechanical ventilator, given electrical defibrillation or chest compressions, or admitted, near death, to intensive care had a substantially worse quality of life in their last week than those who received no such interventions. And, six months after their death, their caregivers were three times as likely to suffer major depression.

Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need.

I’m having a difficult time narrowing down the quotes to include as I write this review. So much in Being Mortal  is not only great writing but conversations that we should be having, in our families, our communities, and society.

Why I read Being Mortal?

My daughter is hosting a Death Over Dinner event and to prepare for the conversation I thought this book would be truly enlightening. I had no idea how much I would learn! While I’ve had a plan in place for years in case the multiple sclerosis gets so bad I have to have constant nursing care, reading about the nursing homes has me terrified of being stuck in one! My son who has worked for 3 years providing music therapy in nursing homes teases me that he’s already got mine picked out! But seriously, this book woke me up to how much more I need to communicate with my sweetheart and my children about end-of-life wishes.

This book is best for

Anyone with aging parents; anyone aging; anyone concerned with the ever-increasing aging population; anyone who works with the aging…..


The book itself is a tremendous resource, giving us 4 key questions to consider and/or ask when faced with end-of-life decisions.

  1. What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?
  2. What are your fears and what are your hopes?
  3. What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make?
  4. And, what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?

Frontline Documentary with Atul Gawande

Karen Wilson, founder of first assisted living home in Oregon

Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of The Green House Project

Atul Gawande’s website has a wealth of research, articles and video.

Atul Gawande on Twitter

[Tweet “Important discussion of what it means to be aging and dying in America #being mortal”]




12 Responses to “Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”

  1. bermudaonion (Kathy)

    What a wonderful review!! I read this book this year and talked about it constantly which absolutely drove Carl crazy. That made me wonder why it’s taboo to speak of death and dying. Anyway, I was just looking at my copy of the book(with all the Post-it flags sticking out of it) and wondering how in the world I can do it justice in a blog post. I think it’s a must read for every adult.
    bermudaonion (Kathy) recently posted…Review: Catnapped!My Profile

    • Stacy

      Thank you so much Kathy. It took me weeks to finally sit down and write this review for the very same reason you mentioned – I didn’t think I could do the book justice. It means so much for you to say it was a wonderful review. 🙂
      I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it to be a must-read for every adult. It truly is – especially in this day and age. I’m looking forward to reading your review of Being Mortal and seeing which quotes spoke to you!

    • Stacy

      We actually had a really great conversation at our Death Over Dinner. My 22 year old daughter planned and hosted. The age range of the attendees was from 22 all the way to 65! Oh wait, we even had a 4-year old though he mostly played on an ancient Nintendo 😉 To me it felt like the beginnings of a conversation. We could certainly have several more Death Over Dinner dinners and not cover everything. We got the conversation going though and that’s what counts, right?
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  2. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    I really need to read this book and I can’t believe I haven’t yet. I took a great healthcare policy course in grad school that had a focus on end of life care and one of the speakers councils members of his church on the subject. He had some pretty interesting insights into what he’s noticed about churchgoer’s vs. non-churchgoer’s and what people say they want versus what they do. I’m moving this one up my list. Thanks!
    Allison @ The Book Wheel recently posted…“[She] could tune her, bringing out her better instincts and filtering out her lesser ones.” My Profile

  3. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    I’m in the middle of this now and I’m learning so much. Such a wealth of information and real human stories, woven together into a compelling and enlightening whole. I hope many, many people will read it and heed its message!

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