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Knocking on Heaven's Door

The Path to a Better Way of Death

Knocking on Heaven's Door by Katy Butler
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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.
Scribner; September 2013
336 pages; ISBN 9781451641998
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Title: Knocking on Heaven's Door
Author: Katy Butler
  • News
How to talk about dying: Author Katy Butler lectures in Bethlehem - Allentown Morning Call
Mon, 18 Apr 2016 14:32:42 -0700
Allentown Morning CallHow to talk about dying: Author Katy Butler lectures in BethlehemAllentown Morning CallKaty Butler, the ...
Ric Baxter: End-of-life conversations necessary for families - Allentown Morning Call
Mon, 18 Apr 2016 07:28:40 -0700
Allentown Morning CallRic Baxter: End-of-life conversations necessary for familiesAllentown Morning CallAuthor and journalist ...
'Knocking on Heaven's Door,' by Katy Butler - San Francisco Chronicle
Fri, 20 Sep 2013 17:15:34 -0700
San Francisco Chronicle'Knocking on Heaven's Door,' by Katy ButlerSan Francisco ChronicleFor anyone still harboring ...

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