The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine's focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul. Yet - and this is the painful paradox - we have decided that they should be the ones who largely define how we live in our waning days.
For the record, Being Mortal is not a treatise against modern medicine. It is, however, a soul-searching examination (by a surgeon, no less) of how American culture deals - or fails to deal - with aging and death. In this insightful and emotional book, Dr. Atul Gawande examines how and why we treat old age and mortality as scientific problems to be cured instead of natural and inevitable stages of the human experience. He interviews geriatricians, oncologists, retirement-home managers, family caregivers, and, most important, the aged themselves to learn more about the changes needed in our health-care system and our society to ensure a better end-of-life experience. I've already recommended Being Mortal to two doctors I know, but this is required reading for us all. (KG)