Book Review: The Conversation
A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care
By Angelo E. Volandes, MD
In the United States, end-of-life care is one of the least discussed aspects of health care. In The Conversation, Dr. Angelo Volandes, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and a researcher at Harvard Medical School, argues that by failing to discuss advance directives and living wills with their terminally ill patients, doctors undermine the Hippocratic oath to do no harm.
A compendium of patient narratives and palliative care resources, The Conversation illustrates that the empathy and compassion doctors extend to treating their terminal patients can be deepened when urging families to think of how their loved ones will want to be cared for at the end of their lives. Similarly to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, the book humanizes medicine to great impact.
Like Gawande, Volandes’s ability to share his own personal experience with his father’s decisions around end-of-life care drives home the stories of patients like a poetry professor who, when she learned her brain tumor was inoperable, was able to make arrangements to die at home instead of in a hospital. The book ends with the touching story of an 89-year-old Japanese man who, after watching a video about how to make end-of-life decisions, says that it was the first time in his life anyone had asked him what he wanted. That embodies the sentiment throughout The Conversation, which makes it a thoughtful and thought-provoking book that confronts the fear of death with the grace of wisdom and understanding.