Kübler-Ross took a job as an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago. … She began a series of seminars, interviewing patients about what it felt like to die. … Many of Kübler-Ross’s peers at the hospital felt that the seminars were exploitative and cruel, ghoulishly forcing patients to contemplate their own deaths. At the time, doctors believed that people didn’t want or need to know how ill they were. They couched the truth in euphemisms, or told the bad news only to the family. Kübler-Ross saw this indirection as a form of cowardice that ran counter to the basic humanity a doctor owed his patients. ….
Kübler-Ross began to work on a book … It came out in 1969, and, shortly afterward, Life published an article about one of her seminars. … Angered by the article and its focus on death, the hospital administrators did not renew her contract. But it didn’t matter. Her book, “On Death and Dying,” became a best-seller. …
Her argument was that patients often knew that they were dying, and preferred to have others acknowledge their situation: “The patient is in the process of losing everything and everybody he loves. If he is allowed to express his sorrow he will find a final acceptance much easier.” And she posited that the dying underwent five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. … Today, Kübler-Ross’s theory is taken as the definitive account of how we grieve.
More here. Pause to see things from those old docs’ point of view. While we usually prefer to be honest and forthcoming, we make exceptions. Some of our reasons are selfish, but we also say that telling people some truths only makes them feel bad, without actually helping much to make decisions.
So isn’t imminent death a great examples of a truth that makes folks feel very bad without much helping decisions? Look how fiercely people avoid thinking about death when it is only a slight possibility, and how more anxious they get as death becomes a larger possibility.
Sure, most folks say they want to be told the truth about imminent death. But most folks also say they want to know if their partner is cheating, if their career is tanking, if their neighbors hate them, etc. If you asked folks straight out, most would even say they want the truth on “do I look fat in this.” So if you are going to hide some type of truth from people for their own good, you must do so in the face of the fact that most folks say they want to be told.
Yes, we may like the closure of taking their time in saying goodbye to folks, but don’t similar modestly useful actions correspond to most truths we think of hiding from folks? Does this gain so obviously outweigh the terror of knowing you will die soon? I want to be told about my death, but I’m weird and want the truth on most everything. What is a better example than imminent death of a truth we’d consider hiding from folks?