How to treat ailing seniors with compassion

Providing compassionate care to patients at end-of-life isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. Each individual's needs are different, but everyone wants to be treated with the respect they deserve.

A professor emeritus of physiology at Queen’s University, Duncan Sinclair has penned a manifesto for The Globe and Mail on his wants and needs for care at end of life. His wishes are inspired by his experiences observing his wife’s “recent end-of-life struggle.”

Sinclair goes on to call for a paradigm shift in terms of how the Canadian medical system approaches death and dying. Efforts to care for patients shouldn’t take a backseat to sometimes futile, unwanted attempts to cure them.

 Sinclair’s list is both simple and profound. “First, I want to be considered a person, not a patient, regardless of how much I then depend on a panoply of physicians, nurses, personal support workers, therapists and pharmacists,” he writes. “I want the values that are central to my being to be respected, then as now. I want to remain Duncan Sinclair, not the incontinent, demented old guy in bed in Room 6.”

His other wishes are common among people who have thought carefully about their plans for end of life. He wants to die at home, in his own bed. He wants to avoid unnecessary suffering and have his pain managed adequately. He wants to “die with dignity at a time of [my] choosing.”

“My needs and wants, then, add up to a short list: respect for my continued dignity and personhood; staying in my home; no pain or suffering; and not being a burden to others,” he said.

That’s Sinclair’s list. What’s yours?

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