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Education And Debate

A healthy view of dying

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 24 July 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:207

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Julia Neuberger, chief executive (
  1. 1King's Fund, London W1G 0AN

    Death is the one great certainty in life, yet Western society, and Western medicine in particular, seem unable to come to terms with this. Rabbi Julia Neuberger discusses how attitudes need to change

    In his president's lecture for the King's Fund in June this year Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, drew attention to our society's inability to see life and health holistically (lecture available on the King's Fund website, He took us back to ancient Pergamon and its Temple of the Divine Healer, Aesculapius, and gave us an insight into that hospital: “In the Greek medical tradition, the fundamental recipe for healthy living was 'know thyself and be moderate in all things,' and this outlook was expressed in the regime followed in the hospital… the temple must have been a tranquil and beautiful environment in which to recover, in an atmosphere that was a cross between Champneys and an Oxbridge college… It was in the ruins of this place that I can remember contemplating the theme of healthy living and healthy dying.”

    The whole person was considered: mind, body, and spirit were as one. In the discussion that followed his lecture, a groundswell of feeling grew that, as a society, we are somehow not paying attention to the whole person in the care of dying patients and bereaved people, because of our strong Western medical model. Part by part, specialty by specialty, no integrated view can develop of the person and the culture from which he or she comes.

    At the King's Fund, we had already been aware of a growing concern about …

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