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Indigenous input needed in end-of-life care

  • October 2, 2021

As far as legislation goes, as far as the political parties are concerned, and in the eyes of the medical establishment, the debate over MAiD and euthanasia is over. The Supreme Court of Canada, Parliament and the Canadian Medical Association have pronounced their final words on the subject.

But more than 630 Indigenous nations across Canada, plus the Metis and the Inuit, haven’t even been asked, points out Dr. Carie Bourassa, scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous People’s Health and a professor at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine.

“Indigenous communities have to have their own discussions about it. I don’t think we’ve been able to have those kinds of discussions,” said Bourassa. “I’ve gone to the Senate four times to speak about this and I continually say the same thing. This task rests within Indigenous communities themselves. We need to provide the resources for them so that they can engage in the way that they want to. One size doesn’t fit all.”

Bourassa will be one of the presenters at Life Issues: The Indigenous Perspective, a panel discussion hosted by the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research on Zoom Oct. 5 (register at https://www.deveber.org/life-issues-the-indigenous-perspective/). Indigenous midwives Ellen Blais and Katsi Cook will speak about traditional, Indigenous birthing practices. Bourassa will talk about end-of-life traditions and decolonizing health care.

“We haven’t made any progress when it comes to improving Indigenous people’s health. Why?” Bourassa asked. “I believe it’s because it has to come from communities. It has to be about self-determination. That is when we’re going to start to be healthy.”

Bourassa argues that Indigenous communities, no matter how tiny or remote, need the full range of end-of-life options, including hospice and palliative care.
“I don’t care how expensive it is. Everybody should have that opportunity,” she said. “We’re in a first world country. They deserve to have the best of what we can offer in our country.”

Working in palliative care, Bourassa still comes across obstacles to Indigenous health in hospitals.

“I’m still shocked that I go into a hospital and somebody is palliative and they’re not allowed to smudge — that’s their spirituality,” she said. “I still get these horrific emails asking me to help them to share information so that physicians and nurses can understand, in 2021. That’s just not right. It’s ridiculous. But it’s still happening.”

Subsequent to the publication of this story, Katsi Cook and Ellen Blais withdrew from the deVeber Institute event. Shortly thereafter the University of Saskatchewan suspended Dr. Carrie Bourassa when the researcher could provide no proof of the Indigenous ancestry she claimed.

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