This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 10 table of contents.

Summary: Death and Dying

Death is defined by medical doctors in the United States as the irreversible cessation of brain function. Kubler-Ross is famous for her work outlining stages of adjustment in terminally ill patients. Her book On Death and Dying (1969) was one of the first to discuss psychological reactions to impending death. Kubler-Ross found that people who knew they were going to die at first denied it, then grew angry, then attempted to "bargain" with God, before finally showing an acceptance of their situation.

Near-death experiences often have a powerful impact on people who recover from them. So-called afterlife experiences involving a bright light and a guide or angel are not uncommon in near-death experiences where oxygen deprivation is involved, such as drowning and heart attacks.

Reactions to the death of loved ones can be profound. If the death is unexpected, denial is a common reaction. Even if the death is expected, people can take years to recover. Several writers have proposed stages of the mourning process. However, there are many exceptions to these patterns. One study found that over half of widows and widowers experienced no exaggerated grief or despair. Death-reconciliation dreams are a common phenomenon in which a dead person reappears in the dreams of those who knew the person. Often these dreams are comforting.

Care of terminal patients in a hospital has many disadvantages. Dying people may be removed from their families at the time when they most want to be with them. A person's life savings may be exhausted in the final weeks of life in futile efforts to prolong life. To prevent this, some people fill out a legal document called a living will which specifies that no extraordinary measures will be used to revive them, if they are near death. Many elect to return home when the end is near. Hospice care, used when a patient's life expectancy is less than six months, aims at making the patient comfortable rather than fighting death. It is increasingly popular in the United States and seems to provide a more comforting and meaningful experience for the family as well as the dying person.

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