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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
Obituary: Dame Cicely Saunders
Dame Cicely Saunders
Inspirational: Dame Cicely Saunders
Dame Cicely Saunders, who has died in the renowned hospice she began, devoted her life to ensuring that terminally ill people could die with dignity and without pain.

Credited with founding the modern hospice movement, she was the leading figure in the campaign to establish hospices around the world.

Cicely Mary Strode Saunders was born on 22 June 1918. Her father had made his money in property, and she was brought up in a house with tennis courts and vast gardens.

Her parents' marriage was unhappy, and she did not get along with her mother. Educated, against her will, at Roedean, she was a shy, gawky child. Her time at school left her with "compassion for the underdog."

After Roedean, she went to Oxford, but left to become a nurse. In 1948 she fell in love with a patient, a Polish waiter, who was dying of cancer.

He left her 500 to start a hospice - a home or hospital established to relieve the physical and emotional suffering of the dying.

But it was nearly 20 years before she could open St Christopher's Hospice at Sydenham in south-east London.

David Tesma
First of thousands: David Tesma
By then, at the age of 39, she had become a doctor, intent on understanding the best ways of controlling pain.

She won an international reputation and influenced thinking about death in many countries.

She was convinced that the last days of a person's life could be made happy.

Dame Cicely's work was widely recognised. She was the first person in nearly a century to receive an honorary doctorate of medicine, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in 1989 joined a handful of women to be awarded the Order of Merit.

She had already been made a Dame in 1980, the same year she was married to another Polish man to have a great influence on her life, artist Professor Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, who died in 1995.

In 2001 she was awarded the largest humanitarian award - the Conrad N Hilton Humanitarian Prize, worth 700,000 - for her life's work caring for the dying.

Life-affirming

Dame Cicely, who was also guided by her Christian faith and strongly opposed euthanasia, had a clear view of the role of hospices.

"I once asked a man who knew he was dying what he needed above all in those who were caring for him. He said, 'For someone to look as if they are trying to understand me'," she said.

"Indeed, it is impossible to understand fully another person, but I never forgot that he did not ask for success but only that someone should care enough to try."

St Christopher's hospice
St Christopher's: The world's first purpose-built hospice
Dame Cicely saw dying as an opportunity to say "thank you" and "sorry" to family and friends.

Her belief that dying is a phenomenon "as natural as being born," was at the heart of a philosophy that sees death as a process that should be life-affirming and free of pain.

Today there are about 220 hospices in the United Kingdom and more than 8,000 in operation around the world.

Each year, about 60,000 people are admitted to hospices in the UK, with nearly half returning home again, and some 120,000 patients living at home are supported by hospice care, more than half of those dying from cancer.

Dame Cicely Saunders' work helped to change society's attitude to what was regarded as the Western world's last taboo.

As she said: ""You matter because you are you, and you matter to the last moment of your life."




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SEE ALSO:
Hospice founder honoured
15 Aug 01 |  Health


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