Valleyfield Bishop Noel Simard joined representatives of the Evangelical Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths June 14 to call for a national palliative care strategy. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Interfaith leaders call for palliative care strategy

  • June 15, 2016

OTTAWA – Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders united on Parliament Hill June 14 to issue a joint call for a well-funded, quality national palliative care strategy.

“The need for quality, widely accessible palliative care should be one of the most pressing concerns of our country,” said Valleyfield Bishop Noël Simard, speaking for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

“Faith communities, along with health care workers, have for centuries stood by the bedsides of the dying to comfort and protect, to heal and console. Today, as faith leaders, we recommit ourselves to this sacred task of providing the spiritual care so essential to palliative care.” 

Simard deplored the use of language such as “medical aid in dying” to refer to Bill C-14 or the euthanasia law in Quebec because it creates confusion between assisted dying and palliative care. Euthanasia and assisted suicide proactively end a life while palliative care alleviates physical suffering and accompanies the patient while attending to medical, emotional  and spiritual needs. 

The interfaith leaders made their plea for “a robust, well-resourced, national palliative care strategy” as the government’s assisted suicide Bill C-14 was being debated in the Senate. They also hope “to raise awareness of inadequacies in palliative care” before C-14 is finalized and becomes law. 

Earlier, the Senate passed an amendment to the Bill which would make a palliative care assessment mandatory before a patient could access assisted suicide. A robust palliative care system would give people an option to assisted suicide but, to date, most Canadians do not have access to hospice or palliative care.

“Palliative care alleviates the suffering of those nearing the end of life, yet, lamentably, it is not accessible to everyone,” said Julia Beazley of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. “As faith communities and as Canadians, we must commit to making high-quality palliative care available to all.”

The interfaith group called on government to develop a five- pronged plan:

  • o Create a pan-Canadian strategy involving federal, provincial and municipal governments;
  • o Ensure palliative care and end-of-life care is available in all settings, including the home;
  • Commit to improving quality and consistency of care;
  • o Provide more support for caregivers and their families through various means including tax breaks
  • o Ensure the health-care system respects people nearing end of life and considers the psychological and spiritual needs of patients and their families.

“In light of Canada’s aging population, there is a pressing need to improve access to high-quality palliative care, which can make a world of difference in the well-being of patients — and their families — entering the final stages of life,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). 

Imam Sikander of the Canadian Council of Imams said society has a duty to provide quality care for the dying.

“Fortunately, many Canadians take this responsibility very seriously,” he said. “We must ensure though that the ill and dying are not left out of our care and compassion. Every life is worth living and saving.”

According to the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association, only 15 to 30 per cent of Canadians have access to palliative care, although 96 per cent of them support it. The association says palliative care would save the health-care system between $7,000 and $8,000 per patient at end of life. 

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