Who’s Worth Saving and The Weight of Being in Medicine

Pseudo-philosophy and The Moral Gravity of Being a Doctor (Surgeon*)

— From Dayo, as she experiences and learns. Welcome to The Mind Palace!

Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash; somewhat unrelated.

“Doctors in highly charged fields met patients at inflected moments, the most authentic moments, where life and identity were under threat; their duty included learning what made that particular patient’s life worth living, and planning to save those things if possible — or to allow the peace of death if not.”

Source: When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Of course, doctors have the medical expertise and right to determine whose life is worth saving but how dare they?

In the event of an unfortunate incident and the life-altering pain of being an isolate — unable to communicate, unable to relate with people, unable to relate with nature, the foundation of a life with meaning stolen — is my life still worth saving? Is your life still worth saving?

I’m still reading When Breath Becomes Air, and my mind is going through major backbends because what makes a life worth saving? What experiences have you had (or not yet had), and what experiences have you given people that may validate a doctor’s decision to put you on life support or perform surgery on you, hoping to keep you alive?

Flip the question. What experiences have you had that make you at peace with passing on to the afterlife? (You can’t answer this question with experiences you plan on having.)

There’s a whole lot more in my notes about having someone else hold a large share of the decision of whether I live or not, but I’ll end with the question that even if you had all the good experiences in the world, would they ever be enough to want to exit this life?

this makes my heart break

Oh yeah, and turns out holding the power to decide whether someone gets to live or not can be more than a person can handle.

[continuing from the starting quote above]

Such power required deep responsibility, sharing in guilt and recrimination.

Something was wrong. My stomach tightened…


“It’s Jeff. He killed himself… He, uh-apparently had a difficult complication, and his patient died. Last night he climbed onto the roof of a building and jumped off. I don’t really know anything else.”

⚠️ Subscribe to the newsletter to see exclusive content for each post, like book highlights and recommended content for this post!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Adedayo Adeyanju

Adedayo Adeyanju

I live, I learn, then I write. Welcome to my mind palace! Also on Substack: themindpalacetmp.substack.com