In last week’s PBS Frontline show Being Mortal— based on the best-selling book of the same name, Dr. Atul Gawande discusses how his regrets over care he provided some patients, as well as the death of his own father, helped him to realize that the goal of medicine should not be a good death, but rather “a good life to the very end.”
The United States has a problem when it comes to conversations around death and dying, says Dr. Gawande. Patients with life-threatening illnesses tend to focus on how to beat the steep odds against them, he says, without hearing from their doctors about how certain kinds of treatment might actually worsen their remaining time alive. It’s understandable, says Gawande, but “hope is not a plan.”
For Gawande, a New Yorker writer and a renowned surgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, too many questions are going unasked. Questions like: What are your priorities if your time is limited? What are your goals for treatment? What are your fears? And what trade-offs are you willing to accept as a result of your care?