Everything I Really Needed to Know to Be a Clinical Ethicist, I Learned From Elisabeth Kübler-Ross*

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Mark G. Kuczewski

Tag(s): Journal article


I analyze the insights present in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s seminal work, On Death and Dying that have laid the foundation for contemporary clinical bioethics as it is practiced by clinical ethics consultants. I highlight the landmark insight of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that listening to dying patients reveals their needs and enables them to enjoy a better death. But more important for contemporary clinical ethics is that the text highlights three tensions that the clinical ethicist must navigate but can never truly resolve. Clinical ethicists must balance: (1) the need to hear the patient’s voice with the temptation to overly medicalize the case, (2) helping the patient achieve a better death with enabling the patient to die in the way he or she chooses, and (3) keeping professional distance with engaging the patient in a way that respects the intimacy of the patient’s disclosures.

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