– The Legacy of Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

August 24th marks the anniversary of the passing of a great soul, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss – American psychiatrist who exhorted the medical profession to think about death, confront it and to help people go through that inevitable consequence of life.

She authored some 20 books, among them the ground-breaking “On Death and Dying “published in 1969. This seminal work is rightly credited with giving rise to the hospice movement—and, by extension, the new specialty of hospice and palliative medicine.

On Death and Dying

To quote an ardent admirer of Dr Kubler-Ross’ work,  Professor Ira Byock ;

“..In On Death and Dying Kübler-Ross famously delineated the “stages” of denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to meticulously describe the emotional states seriously ill people commonly experienced and the adaptive mechanisms they used to make sense of and live with incurable conditions….

…Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “On Death and Dying challenged the authoritarian decorum and puritanism of the day. In a period in which medical professionals spoke of advanced illness only in euphemisms or oblique whispered comments, here was a doctor who actually talked with people about their illness and, more radically still, carefully listened to what they had to say…..

….The people we are introduced to in “On Death and Dying remind us of our own mortality, but they also show us that how people die is not predetermined and can be made better or worse by the choices they make and the quality of care they receive. We see some of the myriad ways the manner in which people are cared for and die affects those who love them. After all these years, “On Death and Dying remains a call to action to listen to the people who need our help and respond with all the knowledge and skill we can bring to bear—always with humility, fellowship, and compassion.”

With the pandemic before us, we need to think about the immediate future that would leave a huge population in pathological grief, unable to function. They need support; the healthcare system needs to develop the ability to deal with it. This is not a job for doctors and nurses alone, though they essentially need to understand and help people in grief and bereavement. Psychologists and social workers could take the lead and train volunteers from the community.

Please watch this lovely documentary on Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross at work. Our approach to end-of-life and palliative care has been very much inspired by her approach.

Francis Mirandah, Founder & CEO