Cicely Saunders

Cicely Saunders bigraphy, stories - British writer

Cicely Saunders : biography

22 June 1918 – 14 July 2005

Dame Cicely Mary Saunders, was a prominent Anglican, nurse, social worker, 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.

Total pain

Saunders introduced the idea of “total pain,” which included physical, emotional, social, and spiritual distress., D. (2000) Total pain: the work of Cicely Saunders and the hospice movement. American Pain Society Bulletin, 10 (4). pp. 13-15. ISSN 1057-1590


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 (equivalent to £13,106 in 2013) 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 Hospital Medical School to become a physician. She qualified MBBS in 1957.

She was married to Polish painter Marian Bohusz-Szyszko who died in St Christopher’s hospice in 1995.

Medical Ethics

Dame Cicely Saunders was instrumental in the history of UK medical ethics. She was an advisor to Andrew Mephem whose report led the Rev. Edward Shotter to set up the London Medical Group, a forerunner of the Society for the Study of Medical Ethics later the Institute of Medical Ethics. She gave one of the first LMG lectures on the subject of pain developing the talk into ‘The nature and Management of Terminal pain’ by 1972.Reynolds, L.A., and E.M. Tansey, eds. Medical Ethics Education in Britain, 1963-1993. London: UK: Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, 2007. Available from: p.118, p.8 & 77 This was went on to be one of the most often repeated and requested lectures of the LMG and other such Medical Groups that sprung up around Great Britain where it was often given as their inaugural lecture. Her talk on the care of the dying patient was printed by the LMG in its series ‘Documentation in Medical Ethics, a forerunner of the Journal of Medical Ethics.Saunders, Cicely. “The Care of the Dying Patient and His Family.” Documentation in Medical Ethics, no. 5 (1975) Published by the London Medical Group.


Dame Cicely died of cancer at the age of 87 in 2005, at St Christopher’s Hospice, the hospice she herself had founded.

Titles and honours

Shorthand titles

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


  • Dame Commander of the British Empire (elevated from Officer)
  • Member of the Order of Merit


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".