Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, is the single best book I’ve ever read about end of life care.

We do what we do at Cramer Law Center because “living matters.” Historically, physicians have treated end of life physical maladies as being medical crises needing to be fixed instead of managed for quality of life, once treatment has become futile. This book reveals how a surgeon also has learned that “living matters”: that life is more than just a stretch of years; that it must have meaning and purpose to be worth living.

He explains how both the medical establishment and most families are “getting it wrong”: the medical establishment because it still wants to “fix” things and charges fees accordingly, and families of elderly patients because they get sucked into this systemic bias of wanting to fix the unfixable. He presents interesting, workable ideas about better ways to handle end of life decision-making.

I agree with Time magazine’s book reviewer who said, “Being Mortal is a clear-eyed, informative exploration of what growing old means in the 21st century… a book I cannot recommend highly enough. This should be mandatory reading for every American… it provides a useful road map of what we can and should be doing to make the last years of life meaningful.”

This book is so provocative that my wife and I have been discussing elements of it for over a week. I can’t recommend it enough!

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawa /

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