Living Fully Until We Die
Today, hospice is an accepted part of American medicine. One out of three terminally ill Americans uses hospice care. People increasingly assume that hospice is part of the dying process. They also assume a key hospice principle: that people should be cared for in such a way that they can live fully until they die. Few realize that the modern hospice movement is young and that Christian faith motivated its founder.
The modern hospice movement is rooted in a much older idea of hospitality. Indeed, the term comes from the same Latin root as hospital and hostel. Places of hospitality were not confined to the Latin-speaking world, however. Greeks, Indians, Romans, early Christians, and Muslims all built places where pilgrims and travelers, particularly the sick, could rest and find care. In modern times, Christians showed their commitment to hospitality for the hurting by building hospitals and, at the end of the 19th century, the first institutions dedicated solely to caring for the dying. Called hospices, these institutions lacked the fully formed philosophy that would characterize the modern movement, they but did offer inspiration to the movement's founder, Dame Cicely Saunders.
Saunders established the first modern hospice, St. Christopher's, in 1967. Located in London, St. Christopher's was the result of Saunders' experience treating dying people, her belief that people could flourish even as they died, and her sense of Christian call.
A wind behind her
Saunders' route to both medicine and faith took some time. Born in 1918, she went to Oxford in 1938 and studied politics, philosophy, and economics. World War II sent her on a different path. She stopped her studies in 1940 to become a nurse. When a bad back forced her from ...