Research Brief “On Death and Fear”: Personal Reflection from an Oncologist

A personal reflection published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (PDF) by Ayelet Shai and Gilad Hirschberger reveals an unspoken truth: that oncologists who treat people with terminal illness face a fundamental inner conflict between the desire to provide empathic treatment and a natural urge to distance themselves from illness and the unsettling reminder of their own mortality. We’ve heard this sentiment from patients themselves, who try to be upbeat for their doctor visits.

The short commentary speaks to an important barrier to doctor-patient communication for people dealing with terminal illnesses. It explains that when awareness of death is aroused, people (including doctors) have negative attitudes towards sick people, sometimes feeling aggression or distancing themselves in order to protect themselves from their own fears of mortality.

The pressure to exude optimism in cancer culture is not likely to help doctors or their patients to come to terms with their existential concerns. However, commentaries like this one open the door for dialogue and change.

Source: Ayelet Shai and Gilad Hirschberger. 2013. ”On Death and Fear: A Personal Reflection on the Value of Social Psychology Research to the Practice of Oncologists,” Journal of Clinical Oncology [Sep;51:2499].

Be Sociable, Share!

Articles & Posts