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Dame Cicely Mary Saunders

Dame Cicely Saunders
Born 22 June 1918(1918-06-22)
Barnet, Hertfordshire, England
Died 14 July 2005 (aged 87)
Profession nurse, social worker, physician, writer
Institutions St. Christopher's Hospice
Specialism Palliative care
Known for The hospice movement
Notable prizes DBE
Member of the Order of Merit

Dame Cicely Mary Saunders, OM, DBE (June 22, 1918 in Barnet, Hertfordshire, England – July 14, 2005 at St Christopher's Hospice, South London, England) was a prominent Anglican nurse, physician and writer, involved with many international universities. She helped the dying and terminally ill end their lives in the most comfortable ways possible.

She is best known for her role in the birth of the hospice movement, emphasizing the importance of palliative care in modern medicine. At the time hospices were sanctuaries provided by religious orders for the dying poor. They offered food, clothing, shelter as well as minimal medical care.


College years

Saunders originally set out in 1938 to study politics, philosophy, and economics St. Anne's College, Oxford University. In 1940, she left to become a student nurse at the Nightingale Training School of London's St. Thomas's Hospital (King's College London). Returning to St Anne's College after a back injury in 1944, she took a BA in 1945, qualifying as a medical social worker in 1947 and becoming a lady almoner at St Thomas's hospital.


In 1948 she fell in love with a patient, David Tasma, a Polish-Jewish refugee who, having escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, worked as a waiter; he was dying of cancer. He left her £500 to be "a window in your home". That act, which helped germinate the idea that became St Christopher's is remembered by a plain sheet of glass in the entrance to the hospice.

While training for social work, she holidayed with some Christians, and went through a conversion experience. In the late 1940s, Saunders began working part-time at St Luke's Home for the Dying Poor in Bayswater, and it was partly this which, in 1951, led her to begin study at St Thomas's College to become a physician. She qualified in 1957.


A year later, she began working at the Roman Catholic St Joseph's Hospice in Hackney, East London, where she was to stay for seven years, and researched pain control. It was while there that she met a second Pole, Antoni Michniewicz, a patient with whom she fell in love. His death, in 1960, coincided with the death of Saunders's father, and another friend, and put her into what she later called a state of "pathological grieving". But she had already decided to set up her own hospice, focused on cancer patients, and said that Michniewicz's death had shown her that "as the body becomes weaker, so the spirit becomes stronger".

Saunders claimed that after 11 years of thinking about the project, she had drawn up a comprehensive blueprint and sought finance after reading Psalm 37: "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." She also succeeded in engaging the support of Albertine Winner, the deputy chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health at the time. Later, Dame Albertine Winner would become chairwoman of St. Christopher's. In 1965 Saunders was made an Officer of the British Empire.

In 1967, St Christopher's Hospice, the world's first purpose-built hospice, was born. The hospice was founded on the principles of combining teaching and clinical research, expert pain and symptom relief with holistic care to meet the physical, social, psychological and spiritual needs of its patients and those of their family and friends. It was a place where patients could garden, write, talk - and get their hair done. There was always, Saunders would emphasize, so much more to be done, and she did it, as its medical director from 1967, and then, from 1985, as its chairman, a post she occupied until 2000, when she became president.

In 1979 she was further elevated by knighthood to DBE and became known as Dame Cicely Saunders. In 1981 Dame Cicely was awarded the Templeton Prize, the world's richest annual prize awarded to an individual. In 1989 Dame Cicely was appointed to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2001 she received the world's largest humanitarian award - the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, worth £700,000 - on behalf of St Christopher's. On April 25, 2005, another ([1]) portrait of her was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. Dame Cicely was one of the subjects of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's book: Courage: Eight Portraits. She was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing and a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

In 1963, three years after the death of Mr. Michniewicz, Cicely saw and admired the paintings of professor Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, a Polish émigré with a degree in fine art. They met and became friends shortly thereafter. She became a patron of his art, and a substantial amount of his work is hung at the hospice. Marian had a long-estranged wife in Poland, whom he supported, and he was a devout Catholic. Marian’s wife died in 1975, and in 1980 he married Cicely; she was 61 and he was 79. Marian died in 1995, spending his last days at St Christopher’s.

Dame Cicely died of cancer at the age of 87 in 2005, at the hospice she herself had founded.

Titles and honours


Shorthand titles

  • Miss Cicely Saunders (June 22, 1928 — 1957)
  • Dr Cicely Saunders (1957 — January 1, 1965)
  • Dr Cicely Saunders, OBE (January 1, 1975 — December 31, 1979)
  • Dame Cicely Saunders, DBE (December 31, 1969 — November 30, 1989)
  • Dame Cicely Saunders, OM, DBE (November 30, 1989 — July 14, 2005)


External links


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