CNN.com - 'On Death' author Kubler-Ross dies - Aug 25, 2004
I had missed this obituary until I found the following link in the blog of Sheila O'Malleyand this post is an expansion of comments I made there.
I was a medical student in 1969 when "On Death and Dying" was published.Ross's work gained acceptance(no
pun intended)rather rapidly as it filled both a conceptual as well as a
therapeutic void. The adoption of her precepts which I will greatly simplify as-
Gently guiding the patient through five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance was so fast that had it occured two years later I would have assumed the work was from a previous era.-Holdouts were usually cheerfully optimistic towards dying patients holding out false hope-
In my experience most patients actually went through these stages without coaching and I have seen children as young as 3 protecting their parents by outwardly seeming to be unaware of impending death but talking about it to their physicians,nurses and clergy.
Like many truly innovative cultural concepts,in
retrospect it seems to have occurred overnight. Think about the internet or
about the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960's.
In my own field of pediatric oncology , the conceptual framework
provided by Ross allowed us to watch her sequence, ending in acceptance
unfold and it was exrtremly rare to see a patient go out kicking and
She was a constant presence in the mid seventies giving lectures and
rounds and being generally accessable. Unfortunately at about that time
to many of us she seemed to forget that our role as physcians was to
prolong useful life as long as possible and as physician researchers we
were to attempt to manage diseases long term(eg AIDS) and to attempt to
cure them. In her later years her emphasisHer outline has been generalized to areas of loss other than death-for example alcoholics who must stop drinking go through similar stages or professioal athletes upon retirement. on acceptance seemed to work
against medical progress and in some cases discouraged patients from
seeking long term treatment or cures.
She became weird in those years-like a middle european maiden aunt
angel of death and seemed to disappear from the mainstream medical
Despite the shortcomings of her later years, she will be remembered
for her truly original work and for also having the tenacity and skill
to see it actualized.