Swiss death expert dies aged 78

Kübler-Ross is pictured outside her home in Arizona in 1998 Keystone Archive

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, an internationally known author and expert on death and dying who pioneered hospice care, has died. She was 78.

This content was published on August 25, 2004 - 14:36

Family members said Kübler-Ross, who suffered a series of strokes in 1995, died on Tuesday night of natural causes at her home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Kübler-Ross’s bestselling 1969 book, “On Death and Dying”, explained her theory that the dying go through five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

“She brought the taboo notion of death and dying into the public consciousness,” said Stephen Connor, vice-president of the United States National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

The Swiss thanatologist wrote more than 20 books dealing with the natural phenomenon of dying, and her work has been translated into 25 languages.

Medical graduate

Born in Zurich, Kübler-Ross graduated from the medical school at the city’s university in 1957.

She moved to New York the following year and was appalled by hospital treatment of dying patients.

"They were shunned and abused, nobody was honest with them," she said.

Kübler-Ross began giving lectures featuring terminally ill patients, who talked about what they were going through.

She worked at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver, and was a clinical professor of behavioural medicine and psychiatry at the University of Virginia.

Her later works dwelt on topics such as how to deal with the death of a child and the Aids epidemic.

In 1999 “Time” magazine named her one of the “100 Most Important Thinkers” of the past century.

Documentary film

Last year a documentary film about the life of Kübler-Ross drew big audiences across Switzerland.

“Facing Death”, by Swiss film director Stefan Haupt, profiled the woman who is credited with breaking the taboos surrounding death.

Carol Baldwin, a research associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona, said Kübler-Ross had succeeded in bringing death out of the dark for the medical community.

"She really set the standards for how to communicate with the dying and their loved ones," she said.

"Families learned that it's not a scary thing to watch someone die."

Kübler-Ross frequently remarked on how she herself looked forward to death.

“Dying is like when you go on holiday. I can’t wait for it,” she said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was born in Zurich in 1926.
She wrote more than 20 books which have been translated into 25 languages.
In 1995 she suffered a series of major strokes which left her paralysed.
She died on August 24, 2004, at her home in Arizona in the United States.

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