An exquisitely written, expertly reported memoir and exposé of modern medicine that leads the way to more humane, less invasive end-of-life care—based on the author’s acclaimed New York Times Magazine piece.
This is the story of one daughter’s struggle to allow her parents the peaceful, natural deaths they wanted—and to investigate the larger forces in medicine that stood in the way.
When doctors refused to disable the pacemaker that caused her eighty-four-year-old father’s heart to outlive his brain, Katy Butler, an award-winning science writer, embarked on a quest to understand why modern medicine was depriving him of a humane, timely death. After his lingering death, Katy’s mother, nearly broken by years of nonstop caregiving, defied her doctors, refused open-heart surgery, and insisted on facing death the old-fashioned way: bravely, lucidly, and head on.
Against this backdrop of familial love, wrenching moral choices, and redemption, Knocking on Heaven’s Door celebrates the inventors of the 1950s who cobbled together lifesaving machines like the pacemaker—and it exposes the tangled marriage of technology, medicine, and commerce that gave us a modern way of death: more painful, expensive, and prolonged than ever before.
Caring for declining parents is a reality facing millions who may someday tell a doctor: “Let my parent go.” A riveting exploration of the forgotten art of dying, Knocking on Heaven’s Door empowers readers to create new rites of passage to the “Good Deaths” our ancestors so prized. Like Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death and How We Die by Sherwin Nuland, it is sure to cause controversy and open minds.
“Katy Butler’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 Heaven’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. I’m recommending it to all my friends with aging parents or partners, and holding on to a copy for myself.”