by Suzanne Besser
When author Atul Gawande joined NPR host Robin Young to discuss his best seller Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End recently, he spoke before a sold-out crowd of individuals seated at the Boston Public Library. They had come to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Beacon Hill Village and hear the words of the surgeon and writer whose thoughts about dying have prompted a cultural movement in how individuals deal with the end of their lives.
“The secret of being able to have a good life all the way to the very end is to be the author of your own life and making it meaningful. Autonomy is what we want for ourselves,” he told the audience, adding that too often today’s physicians and caregivers prioritize safety and other concerns that can impact the quality of life of others.
It is the same philosophy that inspired the Beacon Hill Village’s founding, followed by the subsequent formation of about 180 additional villages across the nation and world based on that model. On this occasion, the audience was far greater than expected as more than 7000 members of villages from Alaska to New Zealand gathered in their home towns to listen to a simulcast of Gawande’s program.
Beacon Hill Village Executive Director Laura Connors said that the villages offer individuals opportunities to connect with communities and enable them to have control over their own lives. “It’s not as much about where they live as they age, it’s a matter of the choices they have over their lives,” she said.
Gawande is indeed an advocate for the village movement. “[It] is already changing the way we look at the process of dying,” said Gawande. “When we need help in some form, the village is saying and demonstrating that we don’t have to give up the joys of our lives to get it. [Villages] are the Sherpas of our mountain climbing. Why would we not want that?”