Written on January 8th, 2015
Written on August 20th, 2014
Though Atul Gawande is a best-selling author, a Harvard professor, and an innovator in best practices for the W.H.O., he still performs 250-plus surgeries a year. A framed copy of Sylvia Plath's poem "The Surgeon at 2 a.m." stands on the desk in his office." Her surgeon's words: "I worm and hack in a purple wilderness." Gawande likes the Plath poem because it casts the surgeon in an ambiguous light.
"Most writing about people in medicine casts them as either heroes or villains," he says, "That poem captures the surgeon as a merely human, slightly bewildered and benighted person in a world that is ultimately beyond his control."
Medicine is just one area of our world that is becoming so complex that even the most expert professionals struggle to master the tasks they face. In his new book, The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande offers a disarmingly simple remedy: the checklist. Now being adopted in hospitals, the 90 second practice cuts fatalities In surgery by more than a third.
NOTE: This interview was recorded when Gawande was recently in LA, prior to Obama's healthcare summit and the latest legislative negotiations.
Should we pay children to get good grades? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants able to pay?
Phenomenally popular Harvard professor, Michael Sandel, notes that in recent decades, market values have crowded out non-market norms in almost every aspect of life-medicine, education, government, law, art, sports, even family life and personal relations. He argues that we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.
In his new book, What Money Can’t Buy, Sandel asks: Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?