I had heard great things about Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Gawande’s one focus is on how we meet the needs of the elderly, often putting them into institutions more like ‘hospitals’ than ‘homes.’ My father-in-law is in a nursing home and there isn’t a day goes by I don’t think about him there and wonder whether I would want to, or be able to, live in such a setting. My husband has already told me he couldn’t.
The people who care for my father-in-law are kind professionals. The facility he lives in provides quality spiritual and personal care. But is it really best for all seniors to be housed together in institutional settings? Gawande offers some ideas for change. He describes cooperatives where seniors pool their money to hire nurse managers, home repair people and meal services that make it possible for them to remain in their own homes. Gawande tells stories about how interactions with animals and plants and children can improve quality of life for the elderly who are institutionalized.
Gawande’s second focus is on end of life medical care for people of all ages. He suggests that often in the medical profession’s fight against the diseases that eventually will terminate patients’ lives, their end of life experience is made painful and full of complicated medical procedures instead of giving them just enough treatment to make it possible for them to enjoy the last days or months of life doing the things that are meaningful and important to them.
Finally he looks at assisted suicide. While he thinks this should be an option for people, he cautions that in some countries in which assisted suicide is legal there is no longer as much effort being put into quality palliative care for those who make other end of life choices.
I found Being Mortal an interesting, thought-provoking read but might have preferred it had Gawande written three books instead of one. Each issue he addresses is important and worthy of consideration. As he left each topic to focus on another, I felt like I still wanted more- more ideas, more important questions asked and answered, more stories and more information.