Through ten short chapters, family doctor Susan Boron explains the origin of her neologism, “tokothanatology,” the study of common practices that surround both birth and death, events that “bookend” our existence. Daughter of an obstetrician who pioneered family-centered birth and spouse of a man who worked in palliative care, Boron noticed the tremendous similarities in the gestures, rituals, and obligations of dealing with both the beginning and the end of life. The obligations extend to the loved ones in the sphere of patients in care--a practice, she writes, “from pre-cradle to post-grave.” 

One chapter reviews the rituals emerging from many different cultures and religions; another examines portrayals of birthing and dying in image and word; yet another addresses the impact of sudden and unanticipated outcomes. Ethical and legal dilemmas and the contingencies imposed by time and place are discussed frankly.  

Recognizing the advantages of medical technologies, she is nevertheless skeptical of their utility in every case and includes practical advice for dealing with pain, showing that midwifery techniques could enhance palliation. Throughout, she acknowledges that things have changed, are changing, and will change again. Sources are referenced in footnotes. 

In the end, the repeated message is one we’ve heard many times before, offered in a refreshing way: the importance of empathy and of listening to the patient's wishes in birthing and in dying. 


An easy-to-read memoir and philosophical primer for students and young physicians, illustrated by captivating vignettes from the author’s life, family, and her 40 years in a rural Canadian practice. It is replete with reflections and gentle recommendations for how physicians and other caregivers should approach these aspects of care.


Houndstooth Press

Place Published

Fayetteville, AR



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