Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
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Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death


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.

Title:Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:336 pages

    Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death Reviews

  • Karen
    Mar 29, 2013

    Based on her award winning New York Times Magazine article ‘What Broke My Father’s Heart’ (which still can be found via online search), Katy Butler has written a powerful medical memoir. I have ...

  • Jan Rice
    Oct 28, 2013

    This is combination memoir, investigative journalism, and self-help. Its main thrust is permission to stand down.The author's father had already had a stroke and begun his final decline when he got a ...

  • Jackie
    Sep 07, 2013

    I spent 3+ years a decade and a half ago taking care of my dying mother. I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book--it was a difficult time that I'm generally happy to keep in the closet. However, I to...

  • Monica Wesolowska
    Sep 05, 2013

    If you have parents, you need to read this book. Part memoir, part investigative journalism, Knocking On Heaven's Door by Katy Butler is a gorgeous and essential book. In brief, Butler writes about ca...

  • Julie
    Oct 13, 2013

    Here is what I think: you should go out right now and pick up a copy of this book.Go on, I'll wait.The library, the bookstore, download it from Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Whatever.I am totally seriou...

  • Evan
    Dec 22, 2013

    Having worked in emergency medicine I was interested in learning more about a layman's view of end of life medical care. Family members can have a difficult time letting go. I have been called to home...

  • Patricia Ziegler
    May 30, 2013

    Though this book deals with tough issues it is an absolute pleasure to read. This riveting story of the author’s loving journey with her parents through the labyrinth of modern medicine is one of th...

  • Angel Suhrstedt
    Sep 25, 2013

    Almost six months ago today I said goodbye to my 87-year-old grandfather after what had been a few years of amazingly painful decline in his quality of life. Katy Butler discusses the decline and dyin...

  • Paul Pessolano
    Aug 14, 2013

    “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by Katy Butler, published by Scribner.Category – Death and Dying Publication Date – September 2013Death and Dying is certainly not a topic most of us want to read...

  • John Doyle
    May 03, 2015

    This "investigative memoir" delves into the experiences of a middle-aged daughter navigating our Kafkaesque healthcare system and her own despair, anger, and ambivalence during her father's six-year d...