The Hastings Center staff and board of directors are saddened by the death of Sherwin B. Nuland, a Fellow, former board member, and longtime friend, on March 3.
Nuland, 83, was a clinical professor of surgery at the Yale School of Medicine and author of many books, including How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1994 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Book Critics Circle Award in 1995. The book, originally published in 1994 and updated in 2010, aimed to “demythologize the process of dying” by describing the physical deterioration that occurs with heart attack, cancer, and other common causes of death. It also explored the resistance that doctors, patients, and family members have about discussing death honestly and openly.
Nuland and Daniel Callahan, co-founder and President Emeritus of The Hastings Center, shared a concern about the shortcomings of care near the end of life and, more broadly, about the culture of medicine. In a prominent article in The New Republic in 2011, they proposed a radical reinvention of the American medical system requiring new ways of thinking about living, aging, and dying. They argued that a sustainable—and more humane— medical system in the U.S. will have to reprioritize to emphasize public health and prevention for the young, and care not cure for the elderly.
“We need to change our priorities for the elderly. Death is not the only bad thing that can happen to an elderly person,” they wrote. "An old age marked by disability, economic insecurity, and social isolation are also great evils.” They endorsed a culture of care, not cure, for the elderly, with a stronger Social Security program and a Medicare program weighted toward primary care that supports preventative measures and independent living.