Knocking on Heaven's Door by Katy Butler
The Path to a Better Way of Death

78%

6 Critic Reviews

With candidness and reverence, Butler examines one of the most challenging questions a child may face...Honest and compassionate thoughts on helping the elderly through the process of dying.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

In this visionary memoir, based on a groundbreaking New York Times Magazine story, award-winning journalist Katy Butler ponders her parents’ desires for “Good Deaths” and the forces within medicine that stood in the way.

Katy Butler was living thousands of miles from her vigorous and self-reliant parents when the call came: a crippling stroke had left her proud seventy-nine-year-old father unable to fasten a belt or complete a sentence. Tragedy at first drew the family closer: her mother devoted herself to caregiving, and Butler joined the twenty-four million Americans helping shepherd parents through their final declines.

Then doctors outfitted her father with a pacemaker, keeping his heart going but doing nothing to prevent his six-year slide into dementia, near-blindness, and misery. When he told his exhausted wife, “I’m living too long,” mother and daughter were forced to confront a series of wrenching moral questions. When does death stop being a curse and become a blessing? Where is the line between saving a life and prolonging a dying? When do you say to a doctor, “Let my loved one go?”

When doctors refused to disable the pacemaker, condemning her father to a prolonged and agonizing death, Butler set out to understand why. Her quest had barely begun when her mother took another path. Faced with her own grave illness, she rebelled against her doctors, refused open-heart surgery, and met death head-on.

With a reporter’s skill and a daughter’s love, Butler explores what happens when our terror of death collides with the technological imperatives of medicine. Her provocative thesis is that modern medicine, in its pursuit of maximum longevity, often creates more suffering than it prevents.

This revolutionary blend of memoir and investigative reporting lays bare the tangled web of technology, medicine, and commerce that dying has become. And it chronicles the rise of Slow Medicine, a new movement trying to reclaim the “Good Deaths” our ancestors prized.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door is a map through the labyrinth of a broken medical system. It will inspire the difficult conversations we need to have with loved ones as it illuminates the path to a better way of death.
 

About Katy Butler

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Katy Butler, a former finalist for a National Magazine Award, has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and other publications. Her work is anthologized in The Best American Science Writing, The Best American Essays, and The Best Buddhist Writing. A winner of the “Science in Society” award from the National Association of Science Writers, she lives in northern California.
 
Published September 10, 2013 by Scribner. 337 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Self Help, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Knocking on Heaven's Door
All: 6 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Good
on Jun 17 2013

With candidness and reverence, Butler examines one of the most challenging questions a child may face...Honest and compassionate thoughts on helping the elderly through the process of dying.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Abigail Zuger, M.d. on Sep 23 2013

...underlying all this commentary simmers her articulate challenge to the medical profession: to reconsider its reflexive postponement of death long after lifesaving acts cease to be anything but pure brutality.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Abraham Verghese on Sep 06 2013

“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” is a thoroughly researched and compelling mix of personal narrative and hard-nosed reporting that captures just how flawed care at the end of life has become. My hope is that this book might goad the public into pressuring their elected representatives to further transform health care...

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on May 27 2013

Butler usefully weighs the benefits of life-prolonging medical care, and argues persuasively for helping elders face death with foresight and bravery.

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NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Roberta E. Winter on Sep 06 2013

Ms. Butler’s memoir does a great service to all families dealing with the decline in health of a loved one by showing the psychological, physiological, and financial costs of the illness on the caregivers.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel on Sep 07 2013

You might not agree with all of Butler’s conclusions, but she is both thoughtful and passionate about the hard questions she raises — questions that most of us will at some point have to consider.

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Reader Rating for Knocking on Heaven's Door
91%

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