I was invited to write a review of the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande recently. While not a Christian book, it addresses end of life issues of interest to all involved with bioethics. This is part one of two.
Evidence of humankind’s tendency to avoid the inevitable surrounds us in our culture. Burgeoning numbers of technological and surgical enhancements, from Botox to Nano therapy, promise us long, beautiful, pain-free lives. A recent headline shouted “The First Person to Live for 1,000 Years Is Probably Already Alive!” Transhumanism believes genetic technology will indeed eliminate death altogether. American culture in particular seems to reflect a people who have an uncanny ability to live as though the aims of the transhumanists have already been accomplished, and we will never die.
Against that backdrop, the blunt title of surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor Atul Gawande’s newest book, Being Mortal, seems more striking. Modern medicine has made tremendous advances in the elimination of once-deadly diseases and has allowed humans to live longer lives. But Gawande’s premise in writing this book reflects the idea that the very gifts to humanity that modern medicine brings also create a direct conflict with the reality of our own mortality. Many may long for a life free of death in this world, but our intellect, experience with family and friends who die, and (for Christians) words like Hebrews 9:27, “and just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” temper any delusions otherwise. Gawande celebrates the advances of medicine, but also laments that, in a healing profession designed to find a problem and fix it, medicine may be worsening the lives of the very patients it seeks to help.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.