Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926 - 2004).jpg
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Born(1926-07-08)July 8, 1926
Zürich, Switzerland
DiedAugust 24, 2004(2004-08-24) (aged 78)
Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
CitizenshipUS, Swiss
Alma materUniversity of Zürich (MD)
Known forKübler-Ross model
Spouse(s)Emanuel Ross (1958–1979)
ChildrenKen Ross
Barbara Ross
AwardsNational Women's Hall of Fame, TIME Magazine "Top Thinkers of the 20th Century", Woman of the Year 1977, New York Library: Book of the Century
Scientific career
FieldsPsychiatry, hospice, palliative care
InstitutionsUniversity of Chicago
InfluencesCarl Jung, Viktor Frankl, Mahatma Gandhi
InfluencedCaroline Myss, Vern Barnet, Bruce Greyson, Sogyal Rinpoche, Neale Donald Walsch

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (July 8, 1926 – August 24, 2004) was a Swiss-American psychiatrist, a pioneer in near-death studies, and author of the internationally best-selling book, On Death and Dying (1969), where she first discussed her theory of the five stages of grief, also known as the "Kübler-Ross model".[1]

Kübler-Ross was a 2007 inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame,[2] was named by Time as one of the "100 Most Important Thinkers" of the 20th century[3] and was the recipient of nineteen honorary degrees. By July 1982, Kübler-Ross taught 125,000 students in death and dying courses in colleges, seminaries, medical schools, hospitals, and social-work institutions.[4] In 1970, she delivered an Ingersoll Lecture at Harvard University on the theme On Death and Dying.

Early life and education[edit]

Elisabeth Kübler was born on July 8, 1926, in Zürich, Switzerland, into a Protestant Christian Family. She was one of a set of triplets, two of whom were identical.[5] Her life was jeopardized due to complications weighing only 2 pounds at birth, but says she survived due to her mother's love and attentiveness.[6][7] Elisabeth later contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized at age 5, during which she had her first experience with death as her roommate peacefully passed away. Her early experiences with death led her to believe that because death is a necessary stage of life, one must be prepared to face it with dignity and peace.

During World War II, Elisabeth worked as a laboratory assistant for refugees in Zürich and only thirteen years old. Following the war, she did relief work in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. She would later visit the Maidanek extermination camp in Poland in 1954, which sparked her interest in the power of compassion and resilience of the human spirit. The horror stories of the survivors left permanent impressions on Elisabeth, and led to her decision in dedicating her life to the help and healing of others.[8] She was also profoundly affected by the images of hundreds of butterflies carved into some of the walls there. To Kübler-Ross, the butterflies—these final works of art by those facing death—stayed with her for years and influenced her thinking about the end of life.[9] During this same year, she also became involved with the International Voluntary Service for Peace as an activist.[7]

From a young age, Elisabeth was determined to become a doctor despite her father's efforts in forcing her to become a secretary for his business. She refused him and left home at the age of sixteen.[9] After this time she worked to support herself in a variety of jobs, gaining major experience in hospitals while volunteering to provide aid to refugees. Following this she went on to attend the University of Zurich to study medicine and graduated in 1957.

Personal life[edit]

In 1958, she married a fellow medical student and classmate from America, Emanuel ("Manny") Ross, and moved to the United States. Together, they completed their internships at Long Island's Glen Cove Community Hospital in New York.[7]

Academic career[edit]

After graduating from the University of Zurich in 1957, Kübler-Ross moved to New York in 1958 to work and continue her studies.

She began her psychiatric residency in the Manhattan State Hospital in the early 1960s, and began her career working to create treatment for those who were schizophrenic along with those faced with the title "hopeless patient", a term used at the time to reference terminal patients. These treatment programs would work to restore the patient's sense of dignity and self-respect. Elisabeth also intended to reduce the medications that kept these patients overly sedated, and found ways to help them relate to the outside world.[8] During this time, Ross was horrified by the neglect and abuse of mental patients as well as the imminently dying. She found that the patients were often treated with little care or completely ignored by the hospital staff. This realization made her strive to make a difference in the lives of these individuals. She developed a program that focused on the individual care and attention for each patient. This program worked incredibly well, and resulted in significant improvement in the mental health of 94% of her patients.[10]

In 1962, she accepted a position at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. There, Kübler-Ross worked as a junior faculty member and gave her first interview of a young terminally ill woman in front of a roomful of medical students. Her intentions were not to be an example of pathology, but she wanted to depict a human being who desired to be understood as she was coping with her illness and how it has impacted her life.[8] She states to her students,

"Now you are reacting like human beings instead of scientists. Maybe now you'll not only know how a dying patient feels but you will also be able to treat them with compassion – the same compassion that you would want for yourself"[8]

Kübler-Ross completed her training in psychiatry in 1963, and then moved to Chicago in 1965. She sometimes questioned the practices of traditional psychiatry that she observed. She also undertook 39 months of classical psychoanalysis training in Chicago. She became an instructor at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine where she began to conduct a regular weekly educational seminar that consisted of live interviews with terminally ill patients. She had her students participate in these despite a large amount of resistance from the medical staff.[8]

A Life magazine ran an article on Kübler-Ross in November 1969, bringing public awareness to her work outside of the medical community. The response was enormous and influenced Kübler-Ross's decision to focus on her career on working with the terminally ill and their families. The intense scrutiny her work received also had an impact on her career path. Kübler-Ross stopped teaching at the university to work privately on what she called the "greatest mystery in science"—death.[9]

During the 1970s Elisabeth became the champion of the world wide hospice movement. She traveled extensively to over twenty countries on six continents initiating various hospices and palliative care programs. In 1970, Kübler-Ross spoke at the prestigious Ingersoll Lecture at Harvard University on the subject of on death and dying. On August 7, 1972 she spoke to the Senate Special Committee on Aging to promote the "Death With Dignity" movement. In 1977, she was named "Woman of the Year" by Ladies Home Journal.

Healing Center[edit]

Kübler-Ross was one of the central figures in the hospice care movement, believing that euthanasia prevents people from completing their 'unfinished business'.[11]

In 1977 she persuaded her husband to buy forty acres of land in Escondido, California, near San Diego, where she founded "Shanti Nilaya" (Home of Peace). She intended it as a healing center for the dying and their families. She was also a co-founder of the American Holistic Medical Association.

In the late 1970s, after interviewing thousands of patients who had died and been resuscitated, she became interested in out-of-body experiences, mediumship, spiritualism, and other ways of attempting to contact the dead. This led to a scandal connected to the Shanti Nilaya Healing Center, in which she was duped by Jay Barham, founder of the Church of the Facet of the Divinity. Claiming he could channel the spirits of the departed and summon ethereal "entities", he encouraged church members to engage in sexual relations with the "spirits". He may have hired several women to play the parts of female spirits for this purpose.[12] Kubler-Ross' friend Deanna Edwards was invited to attend a service to ascertain whether allegations against Barham were true. He was found to be naked and wearing only a turban when Edwards unexpectedly pulled masking tape off the light switch and flipped on the light.[13][14][15] Kübler-Ross announced the ending of her association with both Marty and Jay Barham in her "Shanti Nilaya Newsletter" (issue 7) on June 7, 1981.

Investigations on near-death experiences[edit]

Kübler-Ross also dealt with the phenomenon of near-death experiences. She was also an advocate for spiritual guides and afterlife,[8] serving on the Advisory Board of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS)[3] Kübler-Ross reported her interviews with the dying for the first time in her book, On Death and Dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy, and their own families (1969)[16][17] Kübler-Ross went on to write more about near-death experiences (NDEs) in her books, On Life After Death 1991, and The Tunnel and The Light 1999.

AIDS work[edit]

She conducted many workshops on life, death, grief, and AIDS in different parts of the world. In December 1983, she moved both her home and workshop headquarters to her own farm in Head Waters, Virginia, to reduce her extensive traveling.

One of her greatest wishes was her plan to build a hospice for abandoned infants and children infected with HIV to give them a lasting home where they could live until their death. Elisabeth attempted to do this in the late 1980's in Virginia, but local residents feared the possibility of infection and blocked the necessary re-zoning. In October 1994, she lost her house and many possessions, including photos, journals, and notes, to an arson fire that is suspected to have been set by opponents of her AIDS work.[18]


Kübler-Ross suffered a series of strokes between 1987 and 1995 which eventually left her partially paralyzed on her left side; in the meantime "The Healing Waters Farm" and the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Center closed. After the Virginia house fire and subsequent stroke, she moved down to Scottsdale, Arizona in October, 1994. After suffering a larger stroke a few months later she found herself living in a wheelchair and wished to be able to determine her time of death.[19] In 1997 Oprah flew to Arizona to interview her and discuss with Elisabeth if she herself was going through the Five Stages of Grief. Further, in a 2002 interview with The Arizona Republic, she stated that she was ready for death and even welcomed it, calling God a "damned procrastinator."[3] Elisabeth died, in 2004, at the age of 78 in a nursing home in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the presence of her son, daughter, and two family friends.[3] She was buried at the Paradise Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2005 her son, Ken Ross founded the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona.


Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the first individual to transfigure the way that the world looks at the terminally ill, she pioneered hospice-care, palliative-care, and near-death research, and was the first to bring terminally ill individuals' lives to the public eye.[8] Elisabeth was the driving force behind the movement for doctors and nurses alike to "treat the dying with dignity".[3] Her extensive work with the dying led to the internationally best-selling book On Death and Dying in 1969, she proposed the, now famous Five Stages of Grief as a pattern of adjustment: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In general, individuals experience most of these stages when faced with their imminent death. The Five Stages of Grief have since been adopted by bereavement as applying to the survivors of a loved one's death as well alike. After 2000 an increasing number of companies began using the Five Stages model to explain reactions to change and loss. This is now known as the Kübler-Ross Change Curve and is used by a large variety of Fortune 500 Companies in the US and internationally. In 2018 Stanford University acquired the Kübler-Ross archives from her family and intends to build a digital library of her papers, interviews and other archival material. The American Journal of Bioethics devoted its entire December 2019 issue to the 50th anniversary of, On Death and Dying. The Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation continues her work through a series of international chapters around the world.

Elisabeth wrote over 20 books on death and dying, which are now available in 42 languages.[3] At the end of her life she was mentally active, co-authoring two books with David Kessler including On Grief and Grieving.[3]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • On Death & Dying (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1969
  • Questions & Answers on Death & Dying (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1972
  • Death: The Final Stage of Growth (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1974
  • Questions and Answers on Death and Dying: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Macmillan, 1976. ISBN 0-02-567120-0.
  • To Live Until We Say Goodbye (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1978
  • The Dougy Letter – A Letter to a Dying Child (Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press), 1979
  • Quest, Biography of EKR (Written with Derek Gill), (Harper & Row), 1980
  • Working It Through (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1981
  • Living with Death & Dying (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1981
  • Remember the Secret (Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press), 1981
  • On Children & Death (Simon & Schuster), 1985
  • AIDS: The Ultimate Challenge (Simon & Schuster), 1988
  • On Life After Death (Celestial Arts), 1991
  • Death Is of Vital Importance (The Tunnel and the Light), 1995
  • Unfolding the Wings of Love (Germany only – Silberschnur), 1996
  • Making the Most of the Inbetween (Various Foreign), 1996
  • AIDS & Love, The Conference in Barcelona (Spain), 1996
  • Longing to Go Back Home (Germany only – Silberschnur), 1997
  • Working It Through: An Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Workshop on Life, Death, and Transition, Simon & Schuster, 1997. ISBN 0-684-83942-3.
  • The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying (Simon & Schuster/Scribner), 1997
  • Why Are We Here (Germany only – Silberschnur), 1999
  • The Tunnel and the Light (Avalon), 1999
  • Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living, with David Kessler, Scribner, 2001. ISBN 0-684-87074-6.
  • On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, with David Kessler. Scribner, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-6628-5.
  • Real Taste of Life: A photographic Journal, 2003


  1. ^ Broom, Sarah M. (Aug 30, 2004). "Milestones". TIME.
  2. ^ "Elisabeth Kübler-Ross". Women of the Hall. National Women's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 1 March 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Obituaries: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross". Journal of Near Death Studies. 2004.
  4. ^ "Turn on, tune in, drop dead" by Ron Rosenbaum, Harper's, July 1982, pages 32–42
  5. ^ Gill, Derek (1980). Quest: The Life of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. United States of America: Harper & Row. pp. 2–3. ISBN 0-06-011543-2.
  6. ^ Newman, Laura. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. (2004). British Medical Journal, 329 (7466), 627. Retrieved November 17, 2006.
  7. ^ a b c "Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross". Changing the Face of Medicine. October 14, 203. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Blaylock, B (2005). "In memoriam: Elisabeth kubler-ross, 1926–2004". Families, Systems, & Health. 23: 108–109. doi:10.1037/1091-7527.23.1.108 – via EBSCO.
  9. ^ a b c "Elisabeth Kubler-Ross". Biography. Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  10. ^ "Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth". National Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  11. ^ Paris, John J.; Cummings, Brian M. (2019-12-02). "Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: A Pioneer Thinker, Influential Teacher and Contributor to Clinical Ethics". The American Journal of Bioethics. 19 (12): 49–51. doi:10.1080/15265161.2019.1674549. ISSN 1526-5161. PMID 31746716. S2CID 208184496.
  12. ^ Sex, Visitors from the Grave, Psychic Healing: Kubler-Ross Is a Public Storm Center Again by Karen G. Jackovich. In People, October 29, 1979.
  13. ^ Playboy Interview with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's' Playboy Magazine, May, 1981
  14. ^ TIME.com, The Conversion of Kubler-Ross, TIME, November 12, 1979
  15. ^ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the Afterworld of Entities by Kate Coleman, New West, 30 July 1979
  16. ^ Video: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross über Nahtoderfahrungen (1981) , abgerufen am 14. März 2014
  17. ^ Bild der Wissenschaft: Sind Nahtod-Erfahrungen Bilder aus dem Jenseits? abgerufen am 16. März 2014.
  18. ^ Kinofenster.de (in German)
  19. ^ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On life After Death, Foreword by Caroline Myss p.vii. Celestial Arts. ISBN 9781587613180

Further reading[edit]

  • Quest: The Life of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, by Derek Gill. Ballantine Books (Mm), 1982. ISBN 0-345-30094-7.
  • The Life Work of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and its Impact on the Death Awareness Movement, by Michèle Catherine Gantois Chaban. E. Mellen Press, 2000. ISBN 0-7734-8302-0.
  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Encountering Death and Dying, by Richard Worth. Published by Facts On File, Inc., 2004. ISBN 0-7910-8027-7.
  • Tea With Elisabeth tributes to Hospice Pioneer Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, compiled by Fern Stewart Welch, Rose Winters and Ken Ross, Published by Quality of Life Publishing Co 2009 ISBN 978-0-9816219-9-9
  • Recollections of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross at the University of Chicago (1965–70), by Mark Siegler, MD. Published by the American Journal of Bioethics, 2019
  • Experiências contemporâneas sobre a morte e o morrer: O legado de Elisabeth Kübler-Ross para os nossos dias (Portuguese language) by Rodrigo Luz and Daniela Freitas Bastos, 2019


External links[edit]