Cicely Saunders

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Dame Cicely Saunders
Cicely Saunders.jpg
Born(1918-06-22)22 June 1918
Barnet, Hertfordshire, England, UK
Died14 July 2005(2005-07-14) (aged 87)
South London, England, UK
Alma materKing's College, London
St Anne's College, Oxford
Known forHospice care movement
Spouse(s)Marian Bohusz-Szyszko (m. 1980–1995) (his death)

Dame Cicely Mary Saunders, OM DBE FRCS FRCP FRCN (22 June 1918 – 14 July 2005) was an English Anglican nurse, social worker, physician and writer, involved with many international universities. She is best known for her role in the birth of the hospice movement, emphasising the importance of palliative care in modern medicine.

College years[edit]

Saunders began studying politics, philosophy, and economics at St Anne's College, Oxford in 1938. In 1940, she decided to become a nurse and trained at Nightingale School of Nursing based at St Thomas's Hospital from 1940-44.[1] Returning to St Anne's College after a back injury in 1944, she took a BA in 1945, qualifying as a medical social worker in 1947 and eventually trained as a doctor at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School (now merged to form King's College London GKT School of Medical Education) and qualified MBBS in 1957.[1]


In 1948 she fell in love with a patient, David Tasma, a Polish-Jewish refugee who, having escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, worked as a waiter; he was dying of cancer. He bequeathed her £500 (equivalent to £14,470.24 in 2018)[2] to be "a window in your home". [1] This donation, which helped germinate the idea which would become St Christopher's, is memorialized with a plain sheet of glass at the hospice's entrance. While training for social work, she holidayed with some Christians, and was converted to Christianity. In the late 1940s, Saunders began working part-time at St Luke's Home for the Dying Poor in Bayswater, and it was partly this which, in 1951, led her to begin study to become a physician.


A year later, she began working at St Joseph's Hospice, a Catholic establishment, in Hackney, East London, where she would remain for seven years, researching pain control. There she met a second Pole, Antoni Michniewicz, a patient with whom she fell in love. His death, in 1960, coincided with the death of Saunders's father, and another friend, and put her into what she later called a state of "pathological grieving". But she had already decided to set up her own hospice, serving cancer patients, and said that Michniewicz's death had shown her that "as the body becomes weaker, so the spirit becomes stronger".[3]

Saunders claimed that after 11 years of thinking about the project, she had drawn up a comprehensive plan and sought finance after reading Psalm 37: "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." She succeeded in engaging the support of Albertine Winner, the deputy chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health at the time. Later, Dame Albertine Winner served as Chairwoman of St. Christopher's. In 1965, Cicely Saunders was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

In 1967, St Christopher's Hospice, the world's first purpose-built hospice, was established. The hospice was founded on the principles of combining teaching and clinical research, expert pain and symptom relief with holistic care to meet the physical, social, psychological and spiritual needs of its patients and those of their family and friends. It was a place where patients could garden, write, talk – and get their hair done. There was always, Saunders would emphasize, so much more to be done, and she worked in this spirit as its medical director from 1967, and then, from 1985, as its chairperson, a post she occupied until 2000, when she became president.[citation needed]

In 1977, Cicely Saunders was awarded an honorary Lambeth doctorate by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1979, Queen Elizabeth II honoured Cicely Saunders with the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). In 1981 Dame Cicely was awarded the Templeton Prize, the world's richest annual prize awarded to an individual. In 1989, she was appointed to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2001 she received the world's largest humanitarian award – the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, worth £700,000 – on behalf of St Christopher's.

On 25 April 2005, another portrait of Saunders was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. Dame Cicely was one of the subjects of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's book: Courage: Eight Portraits.[4] She was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing and a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

St Christopher's includes an Arts Team that provides Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Drama Therapy and Community Arts. The work of the Arts Team is reflected in two publications: End of Life Care: A Guide for Therapists, Artists and Arts Therapists and The Creative Arts in Palliative Care.[5][6]


In 1963, three years after the death of Michniewicz, Saunders became familiar with the paintings of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, a Polish émigré and professor with a degree in fine art. They met and became friends, and she became a patron of his art. A substantial amount of his work is hung at St Christopher's Hospice. Bohusz-Szyszko had a long-estranged wife in Poland, whom he supported, and was a devout Roman Catholic. In 1980, five years after the death of his wife, he married Saunders. She was 61 and he was 79. Bohusz-Szyszko died in 1995, at the age of 94, spending his last days at St Christopher's Hospice.[7]

Charitable organisation[edit]

In 2002, Saunders co-founded a new charitable organisation, Cicely Saunders International. She was the founding trustee and president. The charity's mission is to promote research to improve the care and treatment of all patients with progressive illness and to make high-quality palliative care available to everyone who needs it – hospice, hospital or home. The charity has co-created the world's first purpose built institute of palliative care – the Cicely Saunders Institute, and supported research to improve the management of symptoms such as breathlessness, action to meet more closely patient and family choice in palliative care and better support for older people.

Medical ethics[edit]

Saunders was instrumental in the history of UK medical ethics. She was an advisor to Andrew Mephem whose report led the Rev. Edward Shotter to set up the London Medical Group, a forerunner of the Society for the Study of Medical Ethics, later the Institute of Medical Ethics. She gave one of the first LMG lectures on the subject of pain, developing the talk into "The Nature and Management of Terminal pain" by 1972.[8]

This went on to be one of the most often repeated and requested lectures of the LMG and other such Medical Groups that sprung up around Great Britain, where it was often given as their inaugural lecture.[8] Her talk on the care of the dying patient was printed by the LMG in its series 'Documentation in Medical Ethics, a forerunner of the Journal of Medical Ethics.[9]

Total pain[edit]

Saunders introduced the idea of "total pain", which included physical, emotional, social, and spiritual distress.[10][11][12][13][14][15]


Saunders developed breast cancer but still continued to work, which led to her death at age 87 in 2005, at St. Christopher's Hospice, the hospice she had founded.[16] To mark what would have been her 100th birthday, Google honoured her with a Google Doodle.[17]

Titles and honours[edit]


  • Miss Cicely Saunders (22 June 1918 – 1957)
  • Dr Cicely Saunders (1957 – 1 January 1965)
  • Dr Cicely Saunders, OBE (1 January 1965 – 31 December 1979)
  • Dame Cicely Saunders, DBE (31 December 1979 – 30 November 1989)
  • Dame Cicely Saunders, OM, DBE (30 November 1989 – 14 July 2005)


  • Member of the Order of Merit (OM)
  • Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)
  • Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS)
  • Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP)
  • Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing (FRCN)


  1. ^ a b "St Christopher's - Dame Cicely Saunders - St Christopher's". St Christopher's.
  2. ^ "UK Inflation calculator". Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  3. ^ "Dame Cicely Saunders, OM". The Telegraph. 15 Jul 2005. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  4. ^ Brown, Gordon (2007), "Cicely Saunders", Courage: Eight portraits, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, ISBN 978 0747565321
  5. ^ "End of Life Care".
  6. ^ "The Creative Arts in Palliative Care".
  7. ^ "Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, dies". 25 December 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  8. ^ a b Reynolds, L.A., and E.M. Tansey, eds. Medical Ethics Education in Britain, 1963–1993. London: UK: Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL Archived 25 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine. (2007), pp. 8, 77, 118.]
  9. ^ Saunders, Cicely. The Care of the Dying Patient and His Family; documentation in Medical Ethics, no. 5 (1975), published by the London Medical Group.
  10. ^ Richmond, Caroline (23 July 2005). "Dame Cicely Saunders". BMJ. 331 (7510): 238. doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7510.238. PMC 1179787.
  11. ^ "Elsevier". Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 29: 2–13. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2004.08.008. Retrieved 2013-09-15.
  12. ^ Saunders, C (25 March 2013). "The evolution of palliative care". J R Soc Med. 94: 430–2. PMC 1282179. PMID 11535742.
  13. ^ Clark, D (2000). "Total pain: the work of Cicely Saunders and the hospice movement". American Pain Society Bulletin. 10 (4): 13–15.
  14. ^ Article at[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "A holistic approach to pain". Nursing Times.
  16. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (July 31, 2005). "Cicely Saunders Dies at 87; Reshaped End-of-Life Care". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  17. ^ Evans, Natalie (22 June 2018). "Who was Dame Cicely Saunders? Google celebrates British pioneer of modern hospice movement". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 22 June 2018.

External links[edit]