Being Mortal Documentary

I realize that Atul Gawande is becoming a leitmotif of this site, but I love him so much and can’t stop writing about his work. PBS just created a 54-minute documentary based on his book, Being Mortal, in which Gawande examines how he and other physicians struggle to talk with patients about death and dying. It’s honest, brave and beautiful.

You can watch a three-minute excerpt here:

And you can watch the full documentary (for free) on PBS. Highly recommended. xo

  1. Joanna, have you heard of the Reith Lectures? They’re radio lectures commissioned by the BBC given by leading figures of the day.

    Anyway, 2014’s BBC Reith Lectures were delivered by Atul Gawande, and I loved them. They’re so moving. Here’s a link:

    There are four of them which you can listen to, or you can read the transcripts, but he’s such a captivating speaker that I would recommend listening. I especially loved the story of Peg during lecture 3 ‘The Problem of Hubris’. Wept all the way through.

    Thanks so much for sharing. I really appreciate your posts.

  2. Atul Gawande is so inspirational. He truly is a transformational thinker. I will be a newly minted health care law attorney soon, and looking for a physician’s perspective on our health care system and how we deliver care, I have read all his books. I really believe that what I have learned from him will help me be better at what I do. I highly recommend those who work in the health care industry, or even just those interested, to check out his other works: They are not as heart wrenching as being mortal. I particularly like Checklist Manifesto.

    Thanks Joanna for posting this. I think it is important for people to think about these issues, and I really enjoyed watching the documentary.

  3. I can’t wait to watch this. I’ve really loved all of Atul Gawande books, particularly this one – it will be nice to hear his voice, out loud, instead of in my head.

  4. I am a naturopathic physician and have had the priveledge of working with people as they die. I think we need to recognize death is not defeat and we can have healings of another sort: emotional, relationships, finally speaking our truth for example.

    This is a much needed conversation we need to have as a nation, but more importantly everyone needs to examine their own mortality in times of health so they are not caught unawares. I have observed that having some intention around your death grants a measure of grace.

  5. read and book and highly recommend. I work in critical care and my patient population can be in such dire straights that my husband a few times has referred to it as working on ‘death row.’ I am trained to provide critical care, to actually rescue from death those that are not stable enough for other areas of the hospital, to analyze #s, vitals, and ventilator settings and to run a code expertly. however no where in my training did it go over how to navigate the emotional nuances of change of life, aging appropriately supporting our elders. And that is such a shame

  6. I highly recommend the 2010 New Yorker article Letting Go by Atul Gawande. I’m a healthcare worker and most of my patients are terminally ill.The terror and denial surrounding death can make us prolong life far longer than we should. Death is something so inevitable, yet no one wants to talk about it. It is so important to talk about this and help Physicians guide patients towards treatments that are compassionate as well as realistic.

  7. Did you read the recent Newsweek about Euthanasia in the Netherlands? So much food for thought…

  8. I happened upon this on the PBS Roku channel a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was heavy and amazing. Is it strange to say I found it inspirational? Now I really want to read the book. Love this leitmotif :)

  9. I watched this and loved it. It’s interesting how we each approach death, whether we look at it or if we look away. It seems that these physicians really work to provide humane care, but the urge is still to treat it until the very end of life. Most of us will die in the hospital and that’s not necessarily the happiest or best use of our last days.

  10. I cried like a baby through the entire documentary.

  11. I’m a doctor in palliative care and geriatrics and I think that Gawande’s book, its popularity, and now the documentary, are going to be game-changers in my line of work (for the better). The more people (doctors, other health professionals and everyone else) who start talking about this, the better.

  12. I just finished that book last night. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I started. It’s such an important topic for everyone to be educated on. I hadn’t heard of the documentary, but I will check it out as well. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I got the book after your recommendation and I loved it! It even crossed my mind to give it to the doc that’s been taking care of my child in hospital recently.. oh, and I think the topic cannot/shouldn’t be neglected and deserves a shout

  14. Jo I am reading this book at the moment and it has raised so many thoughts about death and aging that I can’t believe I’ve not thought about before. It is an incredible book. Highly recommended to anyone, but especially those with aging parents and those in mid to later life. Now I’m going to watch that clip. Thank you.

  15. Thanks for the link. I am a nursing student now and am learning about how reassuring a patient (when the news is all bad) goes against client centred care. I really loved this doc and have shared it with my nursing class. I think it also helps to see Drs who are so compassionate as we often see them give bad news and leave, having us pick up the pieces with families.

    PS as a fellow ‘cry for all things good and bad’ I tried your trick while watching this and STILL cried a lot. Maybe it only works for being yelled at crying and less so for heart pain crying?

  16. Jo says...

    I just finished watching this at the recommendation of my sister and was so moved by it. As someone who has been with a parent in the end of life stages and worked with another parent on their wishes during the end of life it hit very close to home. I know that even if we have a plan that it can change when we are facing major health issues and that we put a lot of power in what our doctors say.

  17. This looks so good, thanks for sharing!

  18. I’ve got his book at home waiting for me to get through my other books first! As a physician, I have these conversations very frequently. I ask every patient if they have a living will or advanced directive, and what their Code Status is. I wrote about this recently on my blog as well. I think this is one of the most important aspects of my job. Thanks to bringing this to light for your readers. Here is my link if anyone is interested.

  19. AJ says...

    For those interested in this topic, Just Stay is a beautiful book about a couple who faced cancer and mortality together:

    Really, it’s a love story. It’s written from the perspective of three women: a wife, a nurse practitioner, and a spiritual care specialist. It’s a good read.

  20. I just finished reading Being Mortal and it was absolutely one of the best books I’ve read. Ever. I can’t wait to dig into this doc. Thanks as always for the incredible recommendation!

  21. Sorry if I missed this, but when does this episode air? I’d love to watch!

  22. Thanks for sharing, Joanna! As a medical student and future physician, this book meant so much to me and was SO eye opening! I love that I can come to your blog to read/discuss things that are so relevant, whether it’s fashion, family, or life & death. Having a space on the internet where people are willing talk about such real matters is so refreshing.

  23. Speaking of how to stop yourself from crying… Oh, boy. Such a tough subject!

    Thanks for sharing, Joanna!

  24. Such a cool topic. I’ll have to watch this tonight with the boyfriend. :]

  25. Thank you for sharing this. I am super lucky to have all of my grandparents alive, but they are living out their last years. It’s hard to think about! I have Being Mortal on hold at the library and am eager to watch this…I wonder what kind of conversations it might spark with my family.

  26. Thank you! I’m from Croatia and when people from the US visit they are often shocked and offended by the health care system here: much more real and raw but in my opinion often more humane. I’m really looking forward to seeing this. Petra

  27. I watched this online a few days ago and loved it! As a future health care provider, the lessons in here were so important! Definitely something we need to be thinking more about as a society.

  28. My husband is a neurologist and he is constantly telling me his frustrations with the Baby Boomer generation and their inability to come to grips with aging. He says there is a willful refusal in our society to accept the obvious. The video you posted by Frances McDormand comes to mind. If we contemplated our mortality more, we might make different (better?) choices about how we spend our time and money -what we worry about.

    I don’t know the reference, but I remember learning a Bible verse (Proverbs?) as a child that went something like this: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” I think about this when I’m feeling selfish and like life is passing me by, so I try to put my treasure in things that last beyond my death —namely, my family.

  29. Thank you for sharing this. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As a hospice nurse turned midwife I see the battle between “can do” and “should do” affect every aspect of healthcare. It’s the most important conversation that we need to be having.

  30. this looks like an amazing documentary. he is so thoughtful and human. i’m looking forward to watching it. thank you for sharing joanna and caroline!