August 24, 2023

Verbatim: CCCB contribution toward Health Canada's consultation on palliative care


The following formed part of the Canadian bishops’ contribution toward Health Canada’s consultation on palliative care.

For generations, Catholic dioceses and religious orders in Canada have been major contributors to the development and delivery of health-care services across the country. The first hospital (Hôtel-Dieu) in Canada was established in 1639 by three Religious Sisters of the Augustines de la Miséricorde de Jésus to care for Indigenous populations living near the French colony in present-day Québec City. This hospital, which also happens to be the first hospital in North America, is still in operation. In addition, there are today 105 Catholic health-care facilities across Canada, either self- or parent-governed by 43 Catholic organizations, which accounts for 13,738 health-care beds in Canada. These facilities are supported by 19 dioceses and 14 Catholic sponsors. They span six provinces and 27 health regions/authorities. Catholic health care has been a leader in palliative care in Canada since 1974 when St. Boniface General Hospital opened one of the first two palliative care units in the country. Today, across 30 Catholic health-care facilities in Canada, there are a combined 353 palliative care beds. Moreover, in communities in which palliative care is offered by non-religiously affiliated healthcare facilities, a strong relationship often exists between the health-care facility and the local Catholic parish...

The investment of the Catholic community in healthcare is inspired by Christ. It is a response by Christians to be healing hands for the sick; to provide compassionate care for those in need; to accompany the dying with self-sacrifice; and to bear witness to the inviolable dignity of the human person and our common responsibility to love our neighbour and to serve and protect human life at every stage. Despite its legalization in Canada and the support it has received among some segments of the population, the Catholic Church, drawing on the deepest sources of its tradition, remains strongly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. While euthanasia and assisted suicide are also referred to as Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), these are not to be admitted within the definition and practice of palliative care. ... Palliative care is a means of accompanying someone who is extremely vulnerable and significantly (if not entirely) dependent on others for care. It can be seen as an expression of human solidarity, for we all face moments of vulnerability and dependency in varying degrees from birth to natural death...

There are many reasons to promote palliative care and many opportunities to improve its quality and delivery in Canada. At the same time, palliative care faces various hurdles and even barriers both in Canada and abroad. Some of the obstacles are concrete, such as a lack of funding, while others are attitudinal. When palliative care is reduced to a science, for example, it loses its potential to treat the human person in a holistic manner: the spiritual, psychological and material needs of the ailing person, as well as those of the patient-identified caregivers (often close family and friends), go unacknowledged and unmet...

The present submission draws on a number of insights and sources, both local and international. Two Catholic sources from Canada bear special mention:

  1. A resource entitled Palliative Care Matters: How Canada’s Health System Needs To Change by Covenant Health (a major network of Catholic health-care providers in Alberta)...
  2. A palliative care environmental scan produced in 2017 by the Covenant Health Palliative Institute at the request of the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada (a forum for sponsors of Catholic health and social services in Canada), which consists of a comprehensive inventory of palliative care facilities, services and innovative practices within Catholic health-care facilities.

July 23, 2018

+Lionel Gendron, P.S.S.
Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil and (then) President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

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