Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: September 2013
Duration: 10 hours 30 minutes
Never before has medicine resisted death so fiercely—and made it so prolonged, intrusive and difficult. Like millions of sons and daughters across the country helping to care for elderly parents, Katy Butler and her stoic, well-educated, upper middle-class parents thought that their living wills, clear values, close relationship with their internist, and durable power-of-attorney documents would help them to face death without medical overdoing. They were wrong.
In Knocking on Heaven’s Door, award-winning journalist Katy Butler describes in vivid and poetic prose what happened to her family as her parents were moved from a ripe and vigorous old age toward a long and protracted phase of dying. After suffering a stroke at age 78, Butler’s father Jeffrey, a retired professor, was left entirely dependent on the care of his wife, Butler’s mother. Six years later, with a heartbeat managed by a pacemaker put in by an unthinking cardiologist, Jeff’s body had outlived his brain and his wife was exhausted, sick and depleted from nearly a decade of full-time caregiving. When Butler and her mother appeal to doctors, ethicists and lawyers for help getting the pacemaker turned off—allowing Jeff a natural, painless death rather than the extended, diminished life provided by the pacemaker—they are seen as monsters.
A mix of medical memoir, investigative reporting and an exploration of the sacred and forgotten art of dying, Knocking on Heaven’s Door documents the rebellion brewing against a broken and morally adrift medical system that has morphed from saving lives to prolonging dying. Butler shows how our culture turns to technology to solve the spiritual problem of death, and how we are ignorant of the ancient and modern realities of dying. The story of one family, Knocking on Heaven’s Door is a profoundly moving, expertly researched mediation that will serve as a map for the 78 million baby boomers, caring for elderly parents, facing a medical system that robs death of its sacredness and intensifies its suffering.
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