Being Mortal Book Summary By Atul Gawande

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Atul Gawande's Being Mortal is an eye-opening and thought-provoking look at one of life's most difficult topics, death.

It delves into how our society has failed and succeeded in how we approach dying, as well as how to make the most out of living.

The book is divided into two parts: understanding death and understanding life.

In the first part, Gawande examines the current medical dialogue on aging and death.

He looks at different approaches to treatment, care, and dignified deaths for those who are elderly or terminally ill.

The second part focuses on strategies for letting go of what no longer serves with grace and finds joy in every day by approaching life as an adventure - with commitment.

Through a combination of personal stories, interviews, research, and anecdotes, Being Mortal is an invaluable resource for anyone grappling with mortality.

Being Mortal Book

Book Name: Being Mortal (Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End)

Author(s): Atul Gawande

Rating: 4.6/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Motivation & Inspiration

Author Bio

Atul Gawande is an accomplished doctor, author, researcher and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

He has had a successful career in the medical field, publishing two award-winning books - Complications (2007) and The Checklist Manifesto (2011).

It is clear that he has expertise in both the medical world as well as writing since his incredible book Being Mortal has been met with acclaim by many readers.


Gawande's work focuses on issues regarding death and dying, as well as how to live life to its fullest potential.

His ideas on these topics have changed many people's perspectives on their own mortality and put them in control of their health care decisions when it comes to end-of-life choices.

Embracing Death: Why We Need To Stop Fearing The Inevitable

Embracing Death

We all know that death is an inevitability, yet so few of us come to terms with the fact that it is a reality.

But with improvements in medical care and technology, our lifespans are now much longer than ever before, meaning that our deaths may also be a much more drawn out process.

That’s why it is so important for each of us to come to terms with the idea of dying, and to understand how we can make the experience less dreaded and painful.

In Being Mortal, readers discover why dignity must be maintained until death; why care homes must be made more humane; and why it’s best to acknowledge our mortality now rather than later on.

It’s only through understanding death and its implications—including how it affects those around us—that we can make dying easier for everyone involved.

Embracing The Reality Of Aging And Death To Make The Journey Easier

Old age and disease can result in a loss of independence for many, making them reliant on family, medicine, or social programs for support.

As our organs and brain begin to deteriorate due to aging, we become more prone to injury, illness and disability.

Our body’s ability to heal itself also starts dwindling which makes us susceptible to falls as muscle weakness sets in.

Daily tasks that used to be easy suddenly become difficult or even impossible with age.

This could mean something as simple as going grocery shopping or using the restroom needs help from others.

Even hospitalization or nursing home residence may be required if assistance is needed without compromise.

Accepting these realities of aging and death is an uncomfortable yet important matter that should be discussed within society in order to lessen the distress of the experience.

Nothing can make it easier, but understanding can help us manage our expectations accordingly so that we’re better prepared for what lies ahead.

The Changing Nature Of Death: Why An Aging Population Is Moving Away From Dying At Home

Nature Of Death

It’s become increasingly common for aging and death to take place in medical institutions like hospitals and nursing homes.

In the past, families often lived together under one roof or in close proximity, which allowed elderly people to stay and die at home surrounded by their loved ones.

But as family members move farther apart and adult children become reluctant to open their doors to provide full-time care, fewer people are able to pass away in the comfort of their own home.

Instead, many find themselves needing hospitalization or going into a nursing home where they can receive quality medical care.

While these institutions do not provide quite the same atmosphere that comes with being with family, they have made great strides in providing a safe and hygienic environment for their residents.

Therefore, it is more likely than ever before that aging and dying takes place in hospitals and other medical institutions.

Embracing Life And Relationships As We Age: The Need For Autonomy In Old Age

Even when we’re old and sick, we still want to maintain a degree of autonomy over our lives.

As much as possible, we aspire to retain the same level of independence that we had in our younger years.

We don’t necessarily have to be at the helm of every situation, but rather look for ways to remain in control while adapting to the limitations imposed on us by age or sickness.

For instance, if you’ve always been an avid cook but find that your body isn’t allowing you this activity as easily as it used to, then you might consider getting help with grocery shopping instead of resigning yourself to complete culinary incapability.

Similarly, Stanford psychologist Laura Carsten’s study established that when given a deck of cards detailing people they may know–their mother, a favorite author etc.–elderly or HIV-positive participants preferred spending their time with close family and friends more than exciting new characters.

This sense of contentment and relaxation is often one of the major benefits of aging; however, it can also lead to fear when medical institutions are unable to attend properly to their psychological and emotional needs.

Nevertheless, even when old and sick, people still strive for some level of control in their lives.

Filling The Care Gap: Why Old Age Homes Must Do More Than Just Provide Basic Medical Care

Medical Care

When it comes to medical institutions and doctors, the elderly and those who are dying often receive inadequate attention to meet their needs.

All too often they face an infringement on their autonomy in the form of regimented routines imposed on them by nursing homes and intensive care units.

They also find themselves robbed of their personal privacy as decisions are made for them rather than assisted in making them, leaving them feeling useless, small and incapable.

Likewise, medical staff in old age homes are expected to provide both care and safety but sadly may find themselves unable to give time to ensure that the elderly feel appreciated or at home due to a chronic shortage of geriatricians who would specialize in providing medicine and care tailored specifically for this population.

The family is sometimes left to take over these duties which can be very taxing, yet not all families make ideal decisions for the elderly or sick members of their own.

At the end of the day, it’s unacceptable for medical institutions and doctors fail overlook our need for autonomy, understanding and a sense of home as we age or become infirm.

We Should Stop Fighting To Extend Hopeless Lives And Find Meaning In Our Last Days

It’s natural to want to live as long as possible.

But when it comes to terminal illnesses like cancer and the effects of old age, what’s often forgotten is the quality of life we have in those remaining days.

Twenty-five percent of the US’ healthcare costs are spent each year treating people in their final year, who only make up five percent of all patients.

Many treatments that prolong life turn out to be harmful and certainly don’t improve quality of life.

Instead of spending time understanding how hopeless a cure is, many doctors promote unrealistic hopes for a miracle cure.

As a result, terminally ill patients often choose treatments that can prove more harmful than beneficial – so much so that 40 percent of oncologists admit they actually offer treatments they believe are unlikely to succeed!

We prioritize our time on earth over our quality of life, leading us to seek out treatments that hopefully give us the longest amount of life – even if it sacrifices our well-being along the way.

Unfortunately, research from American Coping with Cancer shows that intensive care patients have lower quality lives at end compared to those who stop treatment sooner and spend their last weeks at home or in hospice care.

Terminal illnesses present tough questions for all involved but what’s important is we don’t forget about quality of life during these moments – and strive instead for meaningful enjoyable time in our final days.


As we all age, it is crucial that society manage the process in a way that allows us to keep both our independence and our sense of meaning.

We need to move away from the rigid control offered by nursing homes and instead promote models such as assisted living, which allow individuals more autonomy in their day-to-day lives, while still providing the necessary support.

It is also worth looking into alternative conceptions of old-age housing, such as creating gardens and inviting in animals to provide a sense of joy and give life meaning.

One facility was able to reduce prescriptions per resident and deaths by 15 percent annually.

Hospice care should also be expanded and improved so that those facing death get the highest quality of care available to them; nurses, doctors and social workers should focus on helping these individuals live their fullest lives possible before they pass on.

At the end of the day, dying with dignity means having a say over how you want to spend your last days — not just being an observer but truly living in those moments.

We must strive for services that respect people’s autonomy while providing compassionate help when needed — this will go a long way towards enabling us to age well and die well.

How Doctors Can Help Terminally Ill Patients Through Informed Guidance And Compassion

Doctors have an important role to play when it comes to helping those who are terminally ill.

Rather than just being authoritative, or presenting information without guiding the patient, doctors need to find a middle ground and provide gentle, informed guidance.

This means providing the necessary information, discussing truly viable options with patients and discovering what’s most important to them.

In extreme cases, it is even appropriate for doctors to talk about assisted death.

While assisting a patient in dying may be illegal in most countries, talking about it as an option can help patients prioritize their wishes and make decisions that are right for them in regards to their end-of-life care.

Ultimately, better communication and listening skills must be acquired by medical professionals so that they can offer their patients better care during this difficult time of life.

Doctors should aim to understand the needs of their patients facing death and provide guidance that is both compassionate and realistic at the same time.

Confronting Death And Old Age Can Give Life Meaning And Purpose

For us to truly prepare for the eventuality of old age, illness and death, we need to be brave enough to talk about it openly.

We can’t wait until it’s too late; if we do, our loved ones will have to make tough decisions without actually knowing what we would want.

It is important that the conversations around death and illness start early on, so that those involved can fully understand what the individual’s expectations are – what they want from old age; what makes life worth living; and how they want their story to end.

Answering these questions can give individuals more control over their lives, even in the most difficult of times.

The discussion doesn’t have to happen overnight; by slowly going over these questions with family and friends, a better understanding of what you value as an individual will become clear.

This could ultimately lead to a more dignified goodbye when death does come knocking.

Wrap Up

Being Mortal is an important book which serves as a reminder to us all that death is inevitable and something we must come to terms with.

The author explores the difficult subject of mortality in a holistic way, looking at it from both the point of view of the doctor and patient.

The main takeaway from Being Mortal is that, no matter how much time we have in life, it is essential for us to think ahead and make preparations for our departure; this involves recognizing what brings true meaning and value to our lives, discussing our wishes with friends, family and medical staff, and striving to make life in nursing homes more enjoyable.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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