Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying, dies at 78
August 26 2004 12:00 AM ET
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist whose books, most notably her landmark On Death and Dying, revolutionized the way much of the world looks at terminally ill patients--including those who suffer from AIDS--and who later pioneered hospice care, died Tuesday of natural causes at her Scottsdale, Ariz., home, family members said. She was 78.
Published in 1969, On Death and Dying focused on the needs of the dying and outlined her theory that the terminally ill go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. "Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life," she once wrote. In another passage, she wrote, "Dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you have lived."
Kubler-Ross moved to Arizona nine years ago after a series of strokes left her partially paralyzed on her left side. In a 2002 interview with The Arizona Republic, Kubler-Ross said she was ready to die. "I told God last night he's a damned procrastinator," she said then.
Kubler-Ross wrote 12 books after On Death and Dying, including a volume on dealing with the death of a child and an early study on the AIDS epidemic. "She brought the taboo notion of death and dying into the public consciousness," said Stephen Connor, vice president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Kubler-Ross graduated from medical school at the University of Zurich in 1957. She came to New York the following year and was appalled by hospital treatment of dying patients.
She began her work with the terminally ill at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver and was a clinical professor of behavioral medicine and psychiatry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Kubler-Ross began giving lectures featuring terminally ill patients, who talked about what they were going through. That led to her 1969 book.
The most important thing Kubler-Ross did was bring death out of the dark for the medical community, said Carol Baldwin, a research associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona who also worked as a nurse in one of the nation's first hospices in 1979. "She really set the standards for how to communicate with the dying and their loved ones," Baldwin said recently. "Families learned that it's not a scary thing to watch someone die."
Kubler-Ross is survived by her two children, Kenneth Ross and Barbara Lee Ross, and two granddaughters.