Although death has always been an inevitable part of the human experience, care for the dying has changed remarkably throughout history. Some of the oldest hospices can be traced back to 1000 A.D. in Europe. One of the first hospices, l’Hotel-Dieu, or ‘God’s Hotel’ was built on the core belief that care for the body necessarily involved caring for the soul. Many traditions guided the culture of hospice care, such as the Ars Moriendi, or ‘the art of dying’, the Tibetan Books of the Dying and Celtic Books of the Dead, and most recently, Ars Bene Moriendi, ‘the art of dying well’. These guides all have a common focus on the interconnection between physical and emotional pain, providing holistic approaches to relieving suffering at the end of life. Many traditions provide maps of the intersections between the physical and emotional, psychological or energetic bodies such as the chakras, the Sephirot of Adam, chi and acupressure points, indicating that an imbalance in any part will affect the entire organism.
Since modernization began, cultural beliefs and practices surrounding death and dying have made huge changes. Modern Western end of life care focuses exclusively on the physical aspects, losing its ancient instinct about caring for all dimensions. Care in the West is now based on a crisis-management model, where death is seen as an enemy to be fought and conquered, and the human is seen as fragmented parts rather than a unified whole. Family and friends are often no longer a part of end of life care. These views are beginning to change and give rise to more holistic care with the advent of hospice in America. Hospice care is built on the philosophy of comfort rather than cure, and is a holistic approach to managing symptoms and providing emotional, social and spiritual support at the end of life. Hospice use in America is growing rapidly. Acknowledgement of unmet needs at end of life is expanding with projects such as the Zen Hospice, and increased national funding for research and implementation of integrative therapies.
Groves, R., & Klauser, H. A. (2005). The American Book of Living and Dying: Lessons in Healing Spiritual Pain. New York: Celestial Arts.
Institute of Medicine. (2014). Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life. Retrieved from http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Reports/2014/Dying-In-America-Improving-Quality-and-Honoring-Individual-Preferences-Near-the-End-of-Life.aspx
Zen Hospice Project. (2017). Who We Are. Retrieved from https://www.zenhospice.org/