cover image The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom

The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom

L.S. Dugdale. HarperOne, $27.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-293263-1

In this probing analysis, Dugdale (Dying in the Twenty-First Century), director of Columbia University’s Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, considers how to change the current “death-denying” culture to help readers become more comfortable with death. She challenges the assumptions and habits that lead to a preponderance of medicalized hospital deaths, calling for a personal acceptance of mortality and a revival of community support for the dying, particularly support of those who would otherwise die alone. Sparing no details, Dugdale pulls readers into the ethical conundrums that doctors face with a gripping story of the night she resuscitated an elderly man three times before he died, following the wishes of his children to spare him more pain. Dugdale paints a picture of the medical “conveyor belt” that leads to one treatment after another, often without examining the wisdom or consequences of these actions. She also laments the lack of cultural practices that help people prepare for death, such as the Ars moriendi (Latin for the art of dying) literature of medieval Europe, which emphasized the importance of living well in order to die well. Dugdale discusses the wide variety of responses people have to near-death experiences (despite the expectation of it being a transformative event, many people report feeling or thinking nothing at all), and urges readers to think twice about hospitalization and resuscitation, especially for the frail. This illuminating and thought-provoking book will convince many readers to reexamine their assumptions about death and dying. (July)