How We Die

How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter

Sherwin B. NulandISBN: 978-0679742449

Pub. Date: January 15, 1995

Publisher: Vintage

Death fascinates me like life. Sherwin Nuland, a practicing medical doctor, depicted death with autopsy clarity. It is a freaky, moving, and addictive book. It is also a wonderful book to learn some basic medical terminologies; my appreciation on House is now greatly enhanced.

Except for by trauma, such as gun shot, car accident, etc., death is a process that takes a lifetime; it is not an event that terminates a person. Fearing or trying to avoid it is not acknowledging life itself. That said, there are certainly smart things to do to enhance its quality or not shortening it unnecessarily.

Note that Dr. Nuland does not believe one can live beyond the length programmed by one’s genes. It appears cells can only divide a finite number of times, organs will gradually lose their efficiency, and entropy in the system can only increase. Modern medicine has not found a way to reverse this process yet.

Dr. Nuland stopped short of promoting assisted suicide. The medical profession and institutes dispense excessive amount of resources just to maintain signs of life. Since death is a process, and not an event, there is really nothing to avoid and meaningless to catch just few more breaths.

He admitted it is easier said than done in a painful and emotional story regarding his own brother. He seemed to be trying to convince himself with those grueling chapters on AIDS and cancer death: their inevitable ugly and painful processes. Where is dignity, where is social responsibility, where is humanity, to prolong their suffering while dispensing away resources?

I rewrote my living will and checked my medical power of attorney after reading this book.

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