Dr. J. Donald Boudreau, interim director of the Institute of Health Sciences Education at McGill University in Montreal, said, also in a tribute, that the concept of “physicianship” that Dr. Cassell had helped develop “argued that a key role of medicine should be to return patients to a sense of well-being, where well-being is based on achieving goals and purposes in life.”
Dr. Cassell was born Eric Jonathan Goldstein on Aug. 29, 1928, in New York to Hyman and Anne (Lake) Goldstein and raised in Queens. His father was a civil engineer for the post office. Dr. Cassell said that he and his brother had changed their surname to approximate the original pronunciation of that of their immigrant grandfather, before it was changed at Ellis Island when he arrived from Russia.
Dr. Cassell earned a bachelor’s degree from Queens College in 1950, a master’s from Columbia University and a medical degree from the New York University School of Medicine. He was a captain in the Army Medical Corps from 1956 to 1958 in France and served his internship and residency at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.
In 1971, as a result of an article he had written, he was recruited to the Task Force on Dying at the Hastings Center.
“That literally changed my life, broadened my horizons, pushed me to become literate, and gave substance to a genetic predisposition to philosophy,” Dr. Cassell wrote on his website. “I began to wonder whether a doctor could actually treat patients in a successfully useful and special way because they were dying.”
“Now we know that you not only can,” he added, “but you should.”
He directed the Program for the Study of Ethics and Values in Medicine at the medical college of Cornell University from 1981 to 1986. He retired from his internal medicine practice in 1998.
In addition to his son Stephen, from his first marriage, with Joan Cassell, which ended in divorce, he is survived by a daughter, Justine, from that marriage; his wife, Patricia Owens; his stepchildren, Margaret, Theresa, Shirley, James and Rebecca Owens; a granddaughter; two step-grandchildren; and a step-great-grandchild.