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Weiss, E. (1956). The Psychiatrist and the Dying Patient: By K. R. Eissler, M.D. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1955. 338 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 25:103-105.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:103-105

The Psychiatrist and the Dying Patient: By K. R. Eissler, M.D. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1955. 338 pp.

Review by:
Edoardo Weiss

This book deals with a topic that has been very much neglected by psychologists and medical practitioners. Throughout the ages the human race has been concerned with the phenomenon of death and attempts at mastering the traumatic knowledge of it, as is revealed by all religions and many philosophies.

The author not only expands the scientific concepts of death, but also tries to arrive at the proper attitude for the scientist to this phenomenon. He elaborates upon the great humane task of the psychiatrist to assist those dying patients who no longer can be consoled by religious beliefs in the 'hereafter'. As Dr. Eissler says, 'The psychiatrist has a rightful place at the deathbed'.

In the first section of the book the author discusses the theories of three thanatologies—those of Freud, of the biologist Ehrenberg, and of the existentialist Heidegger. Common to all three theories is the concept that death is the precondition of life and the key to its understanding. Death belongs to the life process. Dr. Eissler is in complete agreement with Freud's theory of the death instinct and supports his conviction by astute biological discussions. In tracing the development of Freud's psychological interest in the problem of death, which culminated in 1920 in the formulation of the death instinct, the author reveals his great versatility and deep understanding of Freud's writings. His discussions are brilliant.

The importance of the death instinct for ego formation is supported by Heinz Hartmann's theory of the neutralized aggressive energy employed by the ego in its integrative functions. Without embarking more deeply on other issues presented by the author, the reviewer wishes to cite Eissler's attitude toward euthanasia. Although he demonstrates that the general objections to it—its possible abuses, its diagnostic errors, its incompatability with Christian moral principles—are not tenable, he nevertheless is opposed to euthanasia on a higher ethical ground: that life in itself must be considered the summum bonum. Instead of shortening the life of a suffering patient, he advocates giving him proper psychological assistance which may alleviate his sufferings and make it easier for him to accept his approaching death, thus preventing severe psychopathology.


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