cover image Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death

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

Katy Butler. Scribner, $25 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4197-4

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. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Sept.)