Medical Definition of Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth: (1926-2004) Swiss-born American psychiatrist whose work with and teching about terminally ill patients helped alter attitudes toward death and the care of the dying. She opposed the taboo against openly discussing and studying death and was a force in the US for the creation of hospices where palliative care and support are provided to the dying.

Dr. Kübler-Ross exerted influence in person and through her writings, especially her book On Death and Dying that first appeared in 1969. Before that time, the terminally ill were often left to face death alone. Kübler-Ross helped make thanatology (the study of the physical, psychological and social problems associated with dying) into an accepted medical discipline. The study of dying became part of medical and health care education in US, often with Death and Dying as the textbook.

From interviews with the dying, Dr. Kübler-Ross identified five stages that many people go through -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not all dying patients follow the same progression, but most experience two or more of the five stages:

  • Denial -- Often denial is the first stage. "I can't be dying. Not me."
  • Anger -- As the disease worsens and denial becomes less possible, there may be anger. "Why me?"
  • Bargaining -- "If I do such and such, can I put off death for a while?"
  • Depression -- When the bargaining doesn't work, depression may set in.
  • Acceptance -- "I accept my fate and am ready to die."
The stages may not progress in this order. The person who is dying, and those who love them, may go back and forth among some or all of these and other emotions.



Is grief a normal reaction? See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors