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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.
In this eloquent exegesis on taking control of the end of one s life, Butler defines a good death as one that is free from unnecessary medical intervention and faced with acceptance and dignity. The book is an expansion of her groundbreaking New York Times Magazine article, published in June 2010. A journalist living in Northern California, Butler helped her aging parents, who lived in Middletown, Conn., through several serious health issues (both parents have since died). She writes affectingly of her parents wishes to make moral decisions about their deaths in spite of the medical establishment s single-minded efforts to prolong their lives, regardless of the quality of those lives. Butler s father had a pacemaker installed in 2003 after an earlier stroke, allowing his heart to continue functioning indefinitely even as his overall health deteriorated. The brunt of his care fell on Butler s prickly, authoritarian mother to the anguish of Butler, who eventually became her father s caregiver, despite living 3,000 miles away and having two able-bodied younger brothers. Butler usefully weighs the benefits of life-prolonging medical care, and argues persuasively for helping elders face death with foresight and bravery.