Intended for healthcare professionals


What Atul Gawande teaches us about dying

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 23 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7779
  1. Navjoyt Ladher, clinical editor
  1. 1The BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. nladher{at}

Doctors and the public need to discuss ageing and death more openly

In the wake of the Black Death guides to ars moriendi—the art of dying—became popular across Europe.1 These manuals gave practical instructions for death in keeping with the Christian values of the time: how to prepare for dying stoically and unafraid, and how to resist the temptations of despair and a lack of faith. There were even sections for friends and family providing guidance on deathbed etiquette and prayers for the bereaved.

In his most recent book, Being Mortal, surgeon, writer, and researcher Atul Gawande turns his attention to the modern experience of ageing and dying.2 Through interviews, studies, and stories—some deeply personal—he examines what it is like to grow old and face death at a time when medicine has more tools than ever to help us live longer. In his recent Reith lectures (a series of lectures broadcast annually on the BBC, listened to by millions) Gawande discussed the “great unfixables” of ageing …

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