Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
This is a sobering book. It’s about dying, and what we can and should do at the end of someone’s life. But it’s a necessary book.
The American medical system is designed to keep people alive, no matter what. But is that always the right answer? When is life not worth living?
The book is not about assisted suicide (the author discusses that only briefly), but rather about the level of treatment we should perform at the end. Is not doing everything the same thing as suicide?
The author spends a lot of time on defining what “life” means to people. What do you need to be able to do to think you have a life worth living? What is important to you? What are your goals when your body starts failing you?
The book is framed around multiple stories of people dying from long illnesses – the author’s own father, for example. In each case, the author (who is a physician) talks what was done, what should have been done, and how he discussed the options with the patient.
This is not a superficially happy book. But it’s weirdly…triumphant? It’s about continuing to live and find meaning in the face of certain death, and how we can enable people to achieve that. If someone manages to enjoy and appreciate their life up until the end, they don’t beat death, but they do take it down a notch.
The book genuinely opened my eyes to the need to have these conversations while you’re healthy. I’m closing in on 50, and I think my wife and I will have some long talks in the next few weeks about what we want, what’s important, and what should and shouldn’t be done at the end.