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May 1965

Who's Afraid of Death On a Leukemia Ward?

Author Affiliations

From the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Group Program Supervisor, Social Work Department, Clinical Center (Mr. Vernick), and Senior Investigator, Medicine Branch, and Chief Pediatrician (Dr. Karon).

Am J Dis Child. 1965;109(5):393-397. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1965.02090020395003

THE PROBLEM of death has always been a great enigma of humanity. It remains in the center of religious life. It is a problem which everyone meets and from which no one can escape; it is always with us.1

Although the care of the fatally ill child has frequently been referred to as one of the most difficult tasks faced by the physician,2,3 there have been almost no data developed which could serve as a basis for an effective approach to the problem. Indeed, the subject is hardly ever mentioned in the medical curriculum and when it is, the proposition for discussion is usually: Shall the child be told he has leukemia? Such a proposition merely begs the question for the basic issue is not whether to talk to the child about his serious concerns but how to talk to him.

One is not really surprised that most