A different view of dying
One of the biggest-selling books in China in recent years presents a perception of aging and mortality that is at odds with the nation’s traditional approach.
BeingMortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, a surgeon from the United States, focuses on the limits of mortality, aging, death and related issues such as debility, assisted living, nursing homes, terminal illnesses, palliative care, and hospice services.
After reading the book, Andrew Yu in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, published a blog post about his mother, who has cancer. The 43-year-old felt the book had given him a new perspective on death — whether to succumb to technology in an intensive care unit or to die at home with dignity. He recalled his 90-year-old grandmother, who chose to return to her home from the city at age 90 and died peacefully in her native village six months later.
After interviewing more than 200 people for the book, Gawande found that many of them supported his ideas for changes in healthcare philosophy, and his belief that rather than merely ensuring health and survival, the purpose of healthcare and medical treatment “is to enable well-being”. His call echoes the words of Cicely Saunders, an English physician who opened the world’s first modern hospice in London in 1967: Last days need not be lost days.
Medical advances have enabled clinicians to cure many previously fatal diseases and prolong human life to previously unknown lengths. However, longevity does not equate with quality of life, especially for elderly people who no longer have the physical functions to sustain independence, Ji Yang,
Our time will come, but who can tell us what to do? Gawande’s book points to a new direction ...” an editor at Cheers Publishing in Beijing
and the terminally ill undergoing tortuous but futile treatment.
More than 500,000 copies of the Chinese translation of Gawande’s book have been sold, and more than 6,000 readers on the web portal Douban gave it an average rating of 9 out of 10.
In its factual but humane fashion, the book gives the reader an opportunity to think about aging and death — topics that people tend to avoid.
Ji Yang, 38-year-old editor atCheersPublishing in Beijing who introduced the book to China, said she sheds a tear every time she reads it.
“Our time will come, but who can tell us what to do? Gawande’s book points to a new direction: what will happen to us; how do we deal with life when we get old; how can we look after senior members of our families. Do we have to die in a hospital? Can we die with dignity?” she said.
One person who has found solace in Gawande’s book is Wu Xiaolong. He was devastated when a close friend died two years ago, but even before the incidentWu had pondered aging and death.
“At 25, when I had just graduated from university and started working, disappointments at work depressed me so much that I couldn’t see a future direction. I suddenly realized thatwewill all die one day,” he said.
“It’s like a soccer game. You’ve prepared for the game and have been playing it for years, but you suddenly realize that one day you will have to leave the field,” said the 34-year-old Beijinger, who has spent a lot of time travelling and exploring aging and death.
He saw a sky burial in the Tibet autonomous region, and when he visited a temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2013, he witnessed a funeral where the mourners danced around the body before the corpse was cremated.
“I watched though it was event,” he said. it calmly, as just a natural