Memo from the Editor

October 8, 2004

Rest in Peace

This summer a medical pioneer died. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross changed the way physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, and, indeed, the world looks at the process of death.

The 1969 publication of her book On Death and Dying shed light on a subject with which few in the medical profession were comfortable. With the 20th century institutionalization of death, doctors had become almost afraid to acknowledge the inevitability of death; they were uncomfortable with dying patients and too often devoted themselves only to their dying patients' physical needs, ignoring completely their psychological and emotional needs. Some of this is understandable-facing death, acknowledging that it is near, is not easy from the vantage point of youth and good health. Sadly, some health professionals are still uncomfortable around the dying, and maybe that, too, is understandable.

Kübler-Ross brought the subject into the open. She faced the needs of those who were dying, interviewing them extensively, with students in tow. Those interviews helped her recognize and define the five stages of grief that those who are dying go through. The stages that today are familiar to anyone who's had even the briefest brush with psychology. The stages that today are applied to all kinds of death, from the loss of a limb to the end of a relationship.

Kübler-Ross should be resting in peace. God knows she paved the way for millions of others to more peacefully meet their ends. And God bless all the physicians who have read and heeded her message over the years, who have taken what she termed the "challenging opportunity to refocus on the patient as a human being, to include him in dialogues, to learn from him the strengths and weaknesses of our . . . management of the patient, . . . as we can help them much during their final hours."