Indeed, surgery has come a long way, but it has room to improve. The risk of complications, while smaller than before, still looms.
"Just because you're working through smaller holes doesn't mean there's no risk," said O'Malley. "The risk is still there, just the side effects are smaller."
If the 20th century brought minimally invasive procedures, the 21st may bring zero-invasive procedures.
"Scientists are already experimenting with techniques for combining noninvasive ways of seeing into the body through the manipulation of small-scale devices that can be injected or swallowed," Gawande wrote.
He added that over time, surgery might even become fully automated. "A century into the future, a surgeon will tell the tale."