An interview on Death and Dying

ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind has an archive interview from 1978 with Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth K√ºbler-Ross who pioneered the consideration and treatment of the last stages of life as patients were dying of terminal illnesses.

K√ºbler-Ross is best known for her stage model of death and grieving that famously includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It has been heavily criticised although it’s true to say that many critics miss the fact that K√ºbler-Ross later disavowed that they are sequential psychological reactions and could appear at any time.

Despite this, the model was based on little except personal observation and insight, and seems unable to capture the messiness of genuine grieving. It did, however, act as a lens that concentrated the mind of the medical world on end-of-life care and, in this respect, has been hugely influential.

K√ºbler-Ross became famous after a 1969 article appeared in Life magazine. Entitled ‘A Profound Lesson for the Living’ it finds her discussing death with terminally ill young people, which, at the time, was a difficult and taboo topic.

The All in the Mind interview sees her almost a decade after her work was first widely publicised, and is full of what is now considered to be the received wisdom about dealing with dying patients.

This was exactly the point where K√ºbler-Ross’ star began to fade, however, largely due to her increasing interest in dodgy practices like spirit channelling and association with some guru-like figures of questionable moral standing.

An article from Time magazine in 1979 exposed her increasingly flaky approach to the topic (the last paragraph is high comedy) and was influential in her quiet rejection from the medical mainstream.

The 2002 documentary film Facing Death: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (a pain to get hold of but available on some torrent servers) captures her when she herself was slowly dying. It looks back on her remarkable and not untroubled life and finds her having difficulty adjusting to her own mortality.

Link to All in the Mind Kübler-Ross interview.

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