Katy Butler (born 1949) is an American journalist, essayist and author of Knocking on Heaven's Door, the Path to a Better Way of Death, (Scribner, 2013). A memoir of caregiving in her parents' last years and a critical history of the medical device industry, it argues that modern medicine's focus on prolonging life often creates more suffering than it prevents.
The New York Times called it a "thoroughly researched and compelling mix of personal narrative and hard-nosed reporting" and named it one of their 100 Notable Books of 2013. The book also received a Books for a Better Life Award in 2014 and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She speaks at hospitals, medical schools and other locations about improving end-of-life medicine and the doctor-patient relationship.
Butler's essays and articles have appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Science Writing, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Best Buddhist Writing. Other honors include writing residencies at Mesa Refuge, Hedgebrook, and Blue Mountain Center.
Born in South Africa in 1949, Butler grew up in England and the Boston area. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and earned a BA from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. After an internship at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Butler became a staff reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, where she stayed for 12 years. Since then, she has written for Mother Jones, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Vogue, The Village Voice, Tricycle (The Buddhist Quarterly), More magazine and Psychotherapy Networker magazine, among others.
A Buddhist since 1977, Butler was lay ordained by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and has co-led small meditation groups. In the 1980s she exposed abuses of sexuality and power by leaders of American Buddhist communities. In 2004, she was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for an essay about applying traditional religious practices to the chaos of modern life. She teaches writing at the Esalen Institute and was a speaker at The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard's 2008 and 2009 conferences on Narrative Nonfiction.
When doctors refused to disable the pacemaker that enabled her 84-year-old father’s heart to outlive his debilitating stroke and dementia, journalist Katy Butler embarked on a quest to understand why modern medicine was depriving him of a humane and timely death.
In 2010, the Nieman Foundation named "What Broke My Father's Heart," an essay about how a pacemaker forced her "father's heart to outlive his brain" a "notable narrative." The essay, first published in the New York Times Magazine, also won awards for national journalism from the National Association of Science Writers and the Association of Health Care Journalists.