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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188

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In Being Mortal, the surgeon Atul Gawande casts America's modern conceptions of healthcare for the elderly in a historical light, showing how it has evolved over time according to a broad range of factors—not all of them valid or related to science, medical ethics, or human virtues such as compassion and empathy. He rebukes certain historical methods for treating old age which are based in our collective unconscious' fear of death and the vices of economic efficiency. His most often rebuked healthcare model is that of the "poorhouse," a government-run and tax-funded shelter that provided minimal, homogenous care in large buildings.

Gawande argues that places like the poorhouse or the for-profit senior center are essentially spaces in which to die in the margins of society—a kind of euphemistic program that takes the physical form of an institution. Gawande extols more recent progresses in senior assistance, most notably hospice, which provides holistic, individualized care to the dying. His book is thus a defense for the empathetic study of the views and needs of elderly people, connecting their suffering to younger people's assumptions about the experience of mortality.