The Way We Die Now: The View from Medicine's Front Line

Thomas Dunne: St. Martin's. Jul. 2017. 304p. bibliog. ISBN 9781250112798. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250112804. SOC SCI
Gastroenterologist O'Mahony (Univ. of Cork Hospital, Ireland) examines the purpose and limitations of modern medicine, especially as it tends to dominate the end of human life. Drawing on his 30 years of experience, he considers the role of medical technology and intervention in an array of scenarios: resuscitation, intubation, and terminal care for patients with chronic illness, as well as the experiences of accidental, sudden, or premature death. The author clearly evaluates the fallibility of some procedures when death is inevitable, showing how familial attitudes influence medical decisions while also bringing a social and historical dimension to his reflections. This analysis summarizes Western perspectives of death and dying from cultural anthropologists Geoffrey Gorer and Ernest Becker, historian Philippe Aries, and social philosopher Ivan Illich. Their disparate works shed light on the communal manner in which death has been "tamed," denied, diminished and medicalized. The book concludes that religion and spirituality must complete what medicine cannot adequately accomplish.
VERDICT A valuable and thoughtful treatment that effectively draws on O'Mahony's professional insights as well as his Irish Catholic upbringing to provide cglimpses into Western society's relationship with mortality.
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