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Palliative care is about living well, right to the end

08 May 2017

Death has been in the news a lot the past couple of years. As we as a society have made the major change to permit assisted suicide, or medical aid in dying, there have rightly been emotional discussions about how people can be helped to die well.

It will be many more years before the assisted suicide policy is fully developed and refined, and perhaps it never will be for more than a few years at a time. Policy involving controversial social issues often is adjusted as attitudes, experiences and governments change.

But some key things, we can rest assured, will remain constant. Most important: We will all die, and we will all only do so once. Every person’s death is thus a crucial, even sacred, event. As a result, one of the most important things our society can do is to ensure every person’s death is as good as it possibly can be.

May 7-13 is National Hospice Palliative Care Week, our annual opportunity to focus on the role and state of palliative care in Canada. In the current environment, it is very appropriate that the theme of the week this year is “Hospice Palliative Care is about living well. Right to the end.”

This is not revolutionary. It is, in fact, exactly what palliative care is all about and what we do every day. Our focus is not on the death of our patients, it is about ensuring they are able to make the very most of their lives until the end comes. We do that in many ways, including with ever more sophisticated symptom management, but also by helping our patients and their families achieve the things they still can together.

Too often in our health-care system, patients in their final days and their families are forced to focus on the patient’s illness and the details of the care they are (or are not) getting, rather than on how they want to live in their final days.

However, quality palliative care allows just that, which is why it is so unfortunate that only about one-third of dying Canadians have access to it, even though 70 per cent of dying Canadians could benefit from receiving palliative care.

When less than half of eligible Canadian patients are receiving a type of care from which they could benefit, we are failing as a caring society. It is no wonder, then, that many Canadians look to assisted suicide as a welcome alternative. It is an option that, we hope, will provide those who choose it with a good death, but not necessarily the one that will provide them with the best life to the end.

For the full article visit The Montreal Gazette

See more articles in Opinion

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