Killing Us Softly: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Part Four

Part Four

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matthew 24:24, KJV

Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19:31

And he made his son pass through the fire, observed times, used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD to provoke him to anger.  

2 Kings 21:6


Unlike Dame Cicely Saunders, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ religion is a new form of an old tradition of religious thought and practice, namely, the tradition of the mystery religions, which thrived in pre-Christian antiquity.

In 1969, she authored the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying, in which she annunciates for the first time the five stages of grief. She also reveals her secularist state of mind by asserting in the book that belief in life after death was a form of denial.

During the 1970s, she became interested in near-death experiences and began to get involved in spiritualism, mediumship, and other ways to contact the dead. Scandal ensued after she became associated with a so-called psychic named Jay Barham, who conducted séances that included sexual relations between participants and entities from the spirit world.

Convinced about the reality of spirit guides, she eventually moved to California, where she founded a healing center called Shanti Nilaya (home of peace), which she wanted to make into a network of retreats “affirming survival of the spirit after death in the form of a living entity.”

In this interview with SFGate in 1996, she is old, alone (her husband divorced her in 1976), and bitter about life.

“My only regret is that for 40 years, I spoke of a good God who helps people, who knows what you need and how all you have to do is ask for it. Well, that’s baloney,” she told the reporter. “I want to tell the world it’s a bunch of bull. Don’t believe a word of it.”

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

During the same time period when Dame Cicely Saunders developed the basic tenets of Hospice philosophy, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published results from her groundbreaking studies of dying patients.  Her books about the psychological stages of response to catastrophe and her lectures to health professionals helped pave the way for developing and accepting hospice programs in the United States.  In her book, “On Death and Dying,” she identified five stages of grief – denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Time Magazine remarked of the book, “It has brought death out of darkness.”  Many physicians had avoided the topic and study of death (thanatology), and the book quickly became a standard text for professionals who work with terminally ill patients.

Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-born American psychiatrist, pioneered the concept of providing psychological counseling to the dying.  Hospice care has subsequently been established as an alternative to hospital care for the terminally ill, and there has been more emphasis on counseling for families of dying patients. However, Hospice has not been the American panacea for dying patients, which was envisioned in England by Dame Cicely Saunders.

Elisabeth Kubler was one of three triplet girls born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1926. Though she weighed only 2 pounds at birth, she credited her survival to her mother’s attention and love.  She witnessed two deaths as a child that made a lasting impression on her and brought her to the realization that death was a part of life.  Elisabeth’s experiences in Poland during WWII, as well as her visit to Majdanek Concentration Camp as a volunteer relief worker, changed her life forever.  She decided to spend her life healing others.

In 1957, Kubler graduated from the University of Zurich School of Medicine.  In 1958, she married Emanuel Robert Ross, an American doctor she met in medical school. They moved to New York for Long Island’s Glen Cove Community Hospital internships.  Kubler-Ross then completed a three-year residency in psychiatry at Manhattan State Hospital and trained for a year at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.

When their second child was born in 1965, they moved to Chicago, where she became an assistant professor of psychiatry at Billings Hospital, affiliated with the University of Chicago. There, she began to focus on the psychological treatment of terminally ill patients suffering from anxiety. She found that many health professionals preferred to avoid discussing death with them, leaving patients facing death alone.  Most health professionals are trained to heal and treat disease and are not trained to help their patients face death. Elisabeth led numerous seminars on death and dying with caregivers, doctors, nurses, ministers, and others.

In her 1969 book, Kubler-Ross calls the belief in life after death “a form of denial.”  Later, her views shifted dramatically, not to orthodox Christianity, but to new age philosophy.  Finally, at the age of forty-six, she quit that post to research what death is like and conduct weeklong workshops on life, death, and the transition to the afterlife.

Kubler-Ross’s research had convinced her that there certainly was an afterlife. She was enamored by stories of near-death experiences (NDEs) and experienced her first apparition about this time.  Elisabeth claims that a former patient of hers appeared to her when she thought of giving up her work. The woman, Mrs. Schwartz, got into an elevator with her and accompanied her to her office, where she told her not to give up her work on death and dying.  Kubler-Ross thought that she must be hallucinating because the woman, Mrs. Schwartz, had died ten months earlier.  But when she asked her to write the date and sign a note, the woman did so before disappearing.  Link

As a result, Elisabeth concluded that death does not exist in its traditional definition; rather, it occurs in four distinct phases: (1) floating out of one’s body like a butterfly leaving its cocoon, assuming an ethereal shape, experiencing a wholeness, and knowing what is going on around oneself; (2) taking on a state of spirit and energy, not being alone, and meeting a guardian angel or guide; (3) entering a tunnel or transitional gate and feeling a light radiating intense warmth, energy, spirit, and overwhelming love; and (4) being in the presence of the Highest Source and undergoing a life review.

Her transformation brought a following of New Age spiritual seekers but cost Kubler-Ross much of her credibility in mainstream medical and academic circles.  Elisabeth came to believe in parapsychology and out-of-body (OBE) experiences.  According to parapsychologists, there are different types of OBE’s. Reciprocal apparitions of the living are those in which experients (those experiencing the OBE) and agents see each other. “Bilocation” is a person’s ability to be in two places simultaneously. The agent’s appearance is called a double. These events may be spontaneous, intentional, and drug or electronically-induced. NDEs are those in which people, declared physically dead, leave the body, observe what’s happening, return to the body, and describe the experience. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was one of the major pioneers in this phenomenon. In previous centuries, when psychic phenomena were called the “occult,” OBEs were called astral projections.

In 1875, occultist Madame Helena Blavatsky established the Theosophical Society to study Eastern religions and science. She based her teachings on what she learned from sojourns in Asia. According to Theosophists, humans aren’t entities of their physical bodies but are theorized to be complex creatures of many. An astral body is thought to be a replica of the physical one. The concept of an astral body was related to OBEs when paranormal phenomena were called the occult. It was postulated that the astral body was attached to the physical one by a silver cord that traveled. It was believed that if cords broke, experiments would die.

At about this time, Kubler-Ross became convinced of the reality of her own “spiritual guides,” and she eventually moved to California in early 1976 to pursue these beliefs. There, she founded a healing center near Escondido (eventually called Shanti Nilaya, a Sanskrit phrase that she understood to mean “the final home of peace.”) It was envisioned by her as the first of a worldwide network of retreats affirming “survival of the spirit after death in the form a living entity.”  Shanti Nilaya was where she could have a base for her workshops, explore out-of-body experiences, and develop a new lecture entitled “Death and Life after Death.” In 1976, Elisabeth began an unfortunate experience with a charlatan, Jay Barham, and his wife, Marti.  Barham ran a San Diego-based church called the “Facet of Divinity, ” where he encouraged members to engage in sexual relations with the “spirits.”   Elisabeth participated with the Barhams at gatherings where they, as mediums or channelers, claimed to materialize spirit guides into human form.  Kubler-Ross’s reputation was severely tarnished when, in l979, Jay Barham had sexually seduced a number of females, including, allegedly, an underage girl.   (Spirit Channeling. The idea behind this is to allow the spirits to overtake one’s body and speak through them. This teaching is prevalent in the new age movement. This is where the occult really begins to enter New Age practice, eventually leading to other routines such as trances and clairvoyance.)   From Robert Yahnke (The Gerontologist, 2005, v. 45, 426-428), reviewing a film on Kubler-Ross: The film is admirably honest about the strange relationship Kubler-Rossdeveloped with a spiritualist charlatan that led to the closing of ShantiNilaya, the center she founded in California. It is common knowledge in the “death and dying” community that in a dark room, the charlatan embodied the spirits of dead husbands and suggested he have sex with their widows. Kubler-Ross’s sister tells how she tried to dissuade Kubler-Ross. She calls channeling spirits “hocus pocus” and “hogwash.” ChaplainImara says that what happened in those séances was transparently fake. There’s also this observation of interest from Yahnke: Her five-stage dying theory has been largely discarded by scholars and practitioners. The theory could neither be empirically validated nor proved useful in making care plans for hospice patients. Her later writings were largely restatements of her first book or were claims about spiritual realities, especially life after death, that rested on faith, not science. 1990, Elisabeth moved to Virginia and bought a 300-acre farm in the Shenandoah Valley.  She founded the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Center on the property.  She planned to adopt AIDs infected babies and bring them to her Center.  However, this was met with great hostility.  She suffered a series of break-ins at the Center, and her home and all her possessions were burned in a suspicious fire.  Her son convinced her to move to Arizona, where her Foundation is today.  Shortly after her move, she suffered a debilitating and paralyzing stroke.  She continued to believe in the afterlife and spirit guides and said her belief in reincarnation initially inspired her opposition to euthanasia.   (Reincarnation. The meaning behind this word is “again in flash.” New Agers believe they will continue to be reincarnated until they have the right “karma” or have lived correctly. It is only at this point that they find their perfect peace.) In her autobiography, The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying (1997), Kubler-Ross said she was enduring a “miserable” life resulting from pain and the limitations of her paralysis. Although she was “anxious to graduate,” she remained opposed to efforts to shorten life (p. 280). Instead, she asserted that “our only purpose in life is growth” and that her task in these circumstances was to learn patience even as she was totally dependent on others for care (p. 281).

Although she opposed physician-assisted suicide and detested the likes of Jack Kevorkian, she apparently changed her mind on suicide as a legitimate option.  She died on August 24, 2004.  Sadly, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s path in life never attained the peace and understanding of the Christian doctor and original Hospice founder, Dame Cicely Saunders. The next article in this series will focus on agnostic and pro-euthanasia American Hospice founder Florence Wald, RN, MN, former Dean of Nursing at Yale University.

2 thoughts on “Killing Us Softly: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Part Four”

  1. Thank you, Kelleigh. Good info. I have read a lityle about the Theosophical Society. If my memory is correct, Westcott and Hort, writers of the Greek text from which the N I V is taken, were members. All occult stuff. I have shared this info with 3 different pastors, yet, they will not condemn the NIV.

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