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Summer Read 2015: What Does a Good Death Mean to You?


For the third year in a row WITF’s Transforming Health teams up with Aligning Forces for Quality – South Central PA and the Central PA library systems to present the “Summer Read”. The goal is to ignite meaningful dialogue around aging, death, and what it means to grow old in the 21st century. Through September, the public is invited to participate in “A Summer Read”, a unique program encouraging residents to visit local libraries to borrow Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End written by bestselling author Atul Gawande and hold discussions with their book clubs, friends, family and colleagues.

In the book, practicing surgeon Atul Gawande challenges the reader to consider how we want to die, how we want our loved ones to be treated at the end of their lives, and what role the medical community should play in providing care to the dying. Most older adults have a good idea about how and where they prefer to die, and who they want to make decisions for them if necessary. But these preferences seldom match reality, often due to the conflicting interests of nursing homes, hospitals, and doctors.

Gwande argues that – at a time when medicine has conquered so many formerly debilitating or deadly illnesses and injuries – the goals of end-of-life care too often in opposition to the best interests of the patient. When does the need to protect a nursing home resident from potential harm override the individual’s quality of life? When can hospital staff move back off from attempting every procedure to extend life, no matter how painful? For Gawande, quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. He offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

After reading the book, use the this discussion guide to continue the conversation with other readers, and be sure to complete a survey to be entered into the drawing for a copy of the book. All surveys must be submitted by September 4, 2015!

Visit any of the following libraries to borrow the book and complete the survey. Surveys are also available online

Adams County Library System

Cumberland County Library System

Dauphin County Library System

Franklin County Library System

Hershey Public Library

Library System of Lancaster County

Lebanon County Library System

Middletown Public Library

Perry County Libraries

York County Library System

The “Summer Read” campaign will culminate with a series of community screenings of the PBS documentary FRONTLINE: Being Mortal. Special screening events will be held in locations throughout Central PA and will feature select clips from the documentary followed by a panel discussion and an opportunity to connect with local palliative care resources.

“Summer Read” is also additionally supported by Capital BlueCross, WellSpan Health, and Penn State Hershey Medical Center.