Medical schools do a great job teaching students how to fix people. But they aren’t so good at preparing doctors for what Dr. Atul Gawande calls “the two big unfixables” — aging and dying.
In a PBS documentary based on his best-selling book, Being Mortal, Gawande shows how doctors—himself included—are often remarkably untrained, ill-suited and uncomfortable talking about chronic illness and death with their patients.
The documentary will be shown in the ASA’s Great Room at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 7). A Boston surgeon and New Yorker writer, Gawande is a prominent voice among the small but growing chorus inside medicine arguing there must be a better way to help patients navigate the end of life.
“Hope is not a plan,” Gawande insists, noting that too many physicians avoid a terminal prognosis in favor of offering hope that some new treatment can at least prolong the patient’s life. This tendency contributes to why most people in the US say they would like to die at home, yet so many of us die in hospital.
The video is at its most powerful when it shows patients and families as they adjust their approach toward one that places a greater emphasis on quality of life rather than quantity of life.
He takes us behind closed doors to witness intimate and heart-breaking end-of-life conversations among doctors, patients and their families.
The documentary argues we all have a responsibility to have these difficult conversations about our wishes and priorities at the end of life, ideally around the kitchen table long before a crisis overwhelms us.
Gawande agrees. “It matters to people how their stories come to a close. Endings are important.”
Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer