Honoring Dame Cicely Mary Strode Saunders, Founder of Modern Hospice Movement
Posted on July 16, 2014 by Christopher Hewitt (Blog Writer, SevenPonds)
Just 9 years ago from last Monday, Dame Cicely Mary Strode Saunders’ life came to a close after 87 years. Born in 1918, she marched across the 20th century as a self-starting woman destined to be remembered as the founder of the modern hospice movement. Thus, in honor of her death day, this week we take a moment to honor her widespread influence and ongoing legacy. Her accomplishments were extraordinary. After attending Oxford, serving as a nurse in WWII, then going to medical school and qualifying as a doctor, Saunders worked for decades “to build a home for dying people, where scientific knowledge should be combined with care and love.” And in 1967 she founded St. Christopher’s Hospice, the first secular, modern hospice in the world.
Saunders’ practices, informed by her own extensive research and firsthand experience with pain management, continue to shape the ethics of hospice care today. Advocating the need for palliative care, the tenacious, driven paragon of proto-feminism disavowed the prevailing ethics in which doctors would attempt to cure their patients at any cost while those who couldn’t be cured were considered failures. Instead, she believed that dying people deserved compassion, respect and assistance with managing pain. And not just physical pain—Saunders widened her notion of pain to include a more holistic complex of physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions.
Along with her progressive ideas on pain and treatment, Saunders corrected the things she found objectionable in the medicine of her day. She renounced the idea that medication had to wear off completely before taking another dose, refused the widely accepted practice of lying to a patient about his or her prognosis and abolished “visiting hours,” which were often an excuse to have mostly “non-visiting hours.” In summary, her cutting-edge decisions are basic protocol for many hospitals today.
Imagine what our world would be if we had more visionaries like Saunders — people so clearly marked by goodness and truth. Audacious, free-thinking and endlessly compassionate, she pushed against the mistakes of her peers to help those most in need of comfort and care. As we watch our aging parents and grandparents, let us remember her lessons as we honor her life, remarkable as it was.