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

Sep 13, 2013

We speak today by phone with Katy Butler, an accomplished journalist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, The Best American Science Writing, The Best American Essays, and The Best Buddhist Writing. Butler talks about her well-written and candid new memoir, "Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death." It's a book that utilizes a reporter's investigative skills, a daughter's love for her mother and father, and a careful writer's powers of observation and storytelling to ask, basically, what happens when our culture's fear of dying collides with the technological imperatives of today's physicians and hospitals. Could it be, perhaps, that we've reached a point where modern medicine --- in its endless pursuit of delaying the arrival of death --- actually creates more suffering than it prevents? As Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, the noted author of "How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter" and other books, has aptly written of Butler's memoir: "This is a book so honest, so perceptive, and so achingly beautiful that its poetic essence transcends even the anguished story that it tells. Katy Butler's astute intellect has probed deeply, and seen into the many troubling aspects of our nation's inability to deal with the reality of dying in the 21st century: emotional, spiritual, medical, financial, social, historical, and even political. And yet, though such valuable insights are presented with a journalist's clear eye, they are so skillfully woven into the narrative of her beloved parents' deaths that every sentence seems to come from the very wellspring of the human spirit.... This elegiac volume is required reading for every American adult; it has about it a sense of the universal."