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Kubler-Ross's 'On Death and Dying': Theories & Summary

Instructor: Alyssa Gilston
The 5-stage model of death was developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. This model identifies the five stages that terminally ill people experience when they are faced with the reality of their own death in the near future.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist at the University of Chicago. Based on her research and interactions with more than 200 dying patients during the 1960s, she identified five stages of dying that people experience when they are faced with their own impending death. She wrote about these stages in her book On Death and Dying. While the stages are listed in order, they do not necessarily occur in the same sequence with every individual. More than one stage may be present at the same time as well.

Stage 1

Denial is Stage 1. During this stage, the dying patient's response may be something like, 'It cannot be true' or, 'This cannot be happening to me.' He or she may even accuse the doctor of making a mistake or being incompetent. He or she will often seek advice from another professional or doctor, and some even seek help from faith healers and look for miracle cures. Other individuals will completely deny the diagnosis and go on with their lives as if nothing is wrong. Most people will begin to gradually accept the reality, but there are some who maintain denial until the very end.

Stage 2

The second stage is known as anger. As the individual moves into Stage 2, they become quite angry and hostile and develop a 'Why me?'-type attitude. These patients will be very resentful and irritable and will fight with family, doctors, and anyone who is trying to help them.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is called bargaining. As a terminally ill patient begins to understand that his or her death is coming, he or she often tries to bargain for some type of relief. For example, the patient might say to whatever god they believe in, 'If you just let me live six more months to attend my son's graduation, I will leave all of my money to the church or temple.' It is interesting to note that very often, when those patients do live to that point and beyond, they rarely honor that agreement.

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