Sir James Reid and the Death of Queen Victoria: An Early Model for End-of-Life Care

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Abstract

Purpose of the Study:

An appraisal of the last ten days of Queen Victoria’s life, viewed primarily from the perspective of her personal physician, Sir James Reid, is presented.

Design and Methods:

Sir James’ clinical encounters with his patient and the Royal Family are examined to reveal his strategic and medical thinking and gauge his level of success in basic palliative aims.

Results:

It was found that the lack of effective medical interventions, tensions within the Royal Family, the importance of his post to Sir James’ professional career, and the political ramifications unavoidably connected with the illness of a head of state, all presented challenges to Reid’s efforts to ease the physical and emotional pain of Queen Victoria’s dying. Key features of Sir James’ approach included reliance on physician–patient and physician–family relationships, emphasis on emotional support for the patient, and the careful selection of interventions for the family.

Implications:

In the first years of the 20th century, an era when the contemporary concepts of palliative care, hospice, and family dynamics did not exist, Sir James’ management of the Queen’s final illness suggested an early model for end-of-life care. By the end of Queen Victoria’s life, Sir James was seen to have preserved his patient’s comfort and dignity, at the same time advancing family and societal acceptance of the death of this matriarchal figure.

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