Dr. Atul Gawande has done it again — writing another compelling and riveting article that everyone will be talking about in the coming weeks. It can be downloaded at The New Yorker website.
In Letting Go, published in the August 2, 2010, issue of The New Yorker Magazine, he examines how people make end-of-life decisions and how they don’t make them. Today the medical community has enormous numbers of medical and surgical treatments to try to change the course of a disease — even when it is terminal. As a result people often fight a disease for so long that they have little opportunity to consider end-of-life decisions. Often the medical interventions have their own effects, both wanted and unwanted, that drag out a person’s death, stealing away time and energy that could be filled with family members, saying good-bye, and freedom from pain.
Also in the article Dr. Gawande vividly describes hospice, as well as the comfort and quality of life that the program provides. Moreover, he writes about the issues that physicians confront as they balance medical care with the realities of terminal illness, finding if difficult to meet with family members to discuss an approaching death. One of the physicians whom he speaks with comments, “You have to understand…a meeting requires no less skill than performing an operation” (p. 47).