Knocking on Heaven's Door (eBook)


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 the Author

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.

Praise for Knocking on Heaven's Door…

eoeKaty Butlere(TM)s science background and her gift for metaphor make her a wonderfully engaging storyteller, even as she depicts one of our saddest but most common experiences: that of a slow death in an American hospital. Knocking on Heavene(TM)s Door is a terrible, beautiful book that offers the information we need to navigate the complicated world of procedure and technology-driven health care. Ie(TM)m recommending it to all my friends with aging parents or partners, and holding on to a copy for myself.e
-Mary Pipher

"Katy Butler's new booke"brave, frank, poignant, and lovinge"will encourage the conversation we, as a society, desperately need to have about better ways of dying. From her own closely-examined personal experience, she fearlessly poses the difficult questions that sooner or later will face us all.e
-Adam Hochschild

eoeIntimate and wise, heartbreakingly compassionate, and critically helpful, this is a truly important work that I hope will be widely read. We have lost our way and Katy Butlere(TM)s impeccably researched and powerful tale will help eliminate much suffering on the passage to the mystery of death.e
-Dr. Jack Kornfield

"This is the most important book you and I can read. It is not just about dying, it is about life, our political and medical system, and how to face and address the profound ethical and personal issues that we encounter as we care for those facing dying and death. You will not be able to put this book down. Its tenderness, beauty, and heart-breaking honesty matches the stunning data on dying in the West. A splendid and compassionate endeavor."
-Joan Halifax, PhD, Founding Abbot, Upaya Institute/Zen Center and Director, Project on Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death

eoeThis is a book so honest, soinsightfuland so achingly beautiful that its poetic essence transcends even the anguished story that it tells. Katy Butlere(TM)s perceptive intellect has probed deeply, and seen into the many troubling aspects of our natione(TM)s inability to deal with the reality of dying in the 21st century: emotional, spiritual, medical, financial, social, historical and even political. And yet, though such valuable insights are presented with a journaliste(TM)s clear eye, they are so skillfully woven into the narrative of her beloved parentse(TM) deaths that every sentence seems to come from the very wellspring of the human spirit that is in her. This elegiac volume is required reading for every American adult; it has about it a sense of the universal.e
-Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, author of How We Die: Reflections of Lifee(TM)s Final Chapter

eoeKnocking On Heavene(TM)s Door is a disquieting book, and an urgent one. Against a confounding bioethical landscape, Katy Butler traces the odyssey of her parentse(TM) final years with honesty and compassion. She does a great service here, skillfully illuminating issues most of us are destined to face sooner or later. I cannot imagine a finer way to honor the memory of onee(TM)s parents than in such a beautifully rendered account.e
-Alexandra Styron

"This beautifully written and well researched book will take you deep into the unexplored heart of aging and medical care in America today. With courage, unrelenting honesty, and deepest compassion, Katy Butler shares her saga of how a family of independent, thoughtful, and complex souls attempt to navigate their uncharted journey through medical institutions and specialties. Here, the degree of individual and family suffering turns on myriad decisions, large and small, coerced by economic and institutional forces. Knocking on Heavene(TM)s Door makes it clear that until care of the soul, families, and communities become central to our medical approaches, true quality of care for elders will not be achieved."
-Dennis McCullough

eoeThis is some of the most important material I have read in years, and so beautifully written. It is riveting, and even with parents long gone, I found it very hard to put down. Katy Butler's book will challenge and nourish you. I am deeply grateful for its truth, wisdom, and gorgeous storiese"some heartbreaking, some life-giving, some both at the same time. Butler is an amazing and generous writer. This book will change you, and, I hope, our society."
-Anne Lamott

"A forthright memoir on illness and investigation of how to improve end-of-life scenarios. With candidness and reverence, Butler examines one of the most challenging questions a child may face: how to let a parent die with dignity and integrity. Honest and compassionate thoughts on helping the elderly through the process of dying."

Product Details ISBN-13: 9781451641998
Published: Scribner, 09/10/2013
Language: en