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When the light begins to fade

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Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be.

We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive.

Atul Gawande. Being mortal. London: Profile Books, 2014.

Atul Gawande, 49, is a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and holds academic positions in the Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health. He is also a writer. Being mortal uses both his clinical experiences and literary skills as they relate to the care we give, or should give, when our patients enter the twilight zone between responsiveness to medical and surgical interventions and when they move beyond the reach of our finest instruments and technical remedies.

The central question of the book is not new, nor are the answers. The question is this: given…

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