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The Christian Who Invented Hospice

Cicely Saunders, a British nurse and social worker, later trained to be a doctor. And what she discovered, in 1950s England, is that hospitals had no idea what to do with patients who were dying. Doctors would tell the family, "There is nothing more that can be done.” And nothing more was done for this suffering person.

Cicely Saunders, who had become a Christian, refused to accept that. She spent seven years researching pain control and working among the dying. She began dreaming of a place serving cancer patients, but was afraid of stepping out and asking for financing for what would be the world’s first purpose-built hospice. Then one day she read Psalm 37:5 "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass."

So in 1961, Cicely Saunders opened St. Christopher’s in London. It was there where they did pioneering research on using morphine for pain control. And unlike hospitals, in her hospice, a patient can garden, or get their hair done, or enjoy art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy. Cicely believed, “You matter because you are you, you matter to the last moment of your life."

Her work helped create a new specialty in medicine, called palliative care. And when euthanasia began growing in Europe, Cicely Saunders strongly opposed it, because of her Christian faith, and because she had shown that effective pain control is possible.

In 2005, Cicely Saunders died from breast cancer--at the very hospice she had started. In a culture that viewed a dying patient as a medical failure, Cicely Saunders taught the world how to view that same patient as a whole person.

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