We often talk about books that are ‘must-reads’. ‘Oh, you simply must read John Grisham’s latest thriller, he has surpassed himself’, ‘J G Ballard’s Crash is a must-read’, ‘You must read the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey…’
I try not to call a book a ‘must-read’ unless it’s really going to change the way someone thinks and, whilst Being Mortal is by no means a perfect book, it is a book that will do a lot to change our perspective on aging and mortality for the better.
Like it or not, we are all getting older and one day our bodies will begin to run down, and we will become infirm. In those later years we are likely to start frequenting hospitals more often as we become ever more likely to fall ill and our organs become damaged from the simple wear and tear of aging. We will have to take a cocktail of medication to keep everything in working order, and we may have to give up our freedom to live in nursing homes.
This system through which we currently treat our elderly is, Gawande argues, entirely wrong. Drawing upon his many years of experience as a surgeon, his own personal trials with his aging father, and the cultural ideology of his Indian heritage, Gawande presents an argument that our ultimate aim for our elderly relatives and ourselves when we’re old is not safety and life-extending at whatever cost to our freedom, but making the last years as happy and as free as possible.
It’s not an easy balance. We cannot simply let the elderly and infirm free to waste away, but there are compromises to be made. Gawande explores various ideas and innovations in the treatment of geriatrics: new care homes that allow residents to be master’s of their space with a level of independence, how the conflicting side-effects of pills can lead to a decline in health, and how a renewed sense of purpose can add years to life expectancy.
It’s an enlightening, powerful and often deeply personal take on a subject that effects us all, but that few of us seem to be willing to talk about. Gawande’s argument is compellingly well-informed and it seems hard to find any flaws within his vision for how our aging society must be treated.
When I say Being Mortal is a must-read, I mean that reading it is in all our best interests. With the knowledge contained within these pages, we could transform the lives of our grandparents, parents and of ourselves for the better. We all deserve to live and die with dignity, but only through the work of people such as Gawande and the scattered, passionate innovators whom he meets, can we achieve this.