Health Canada’s decision to create a federal Office of Palliative Care is a “promising step forward,” Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) says.
The announcement of a new federal bureau dedicated to improving access to end-of-life care appeared in the federal government’s new national framework on palliative care, which Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. The framework sets out goals for improving education about end-of-life care, creating supports for clinicians and caregivers, and expanding access for Canadians with life-limiting illnesses.
“The establishment of a national Office for Palliative Care is a promising step forward for patients’ rights,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “We look forward to learning more about this new body and the role it will play in ensuring that all Canadians have fair, equitable access to high-quality palliative care.”
DWDC participated in a national consultation that Health Canada conducted to guide the creation of the framework. In DWDC’s written submission, the organization urged a patient-centred, integrative approach to end-of-life care, calling for equitable access to palliative care, a national framework for advance care planning, and the breaking down of unfair barriers to medical assistance in dying (MAID).
“No matter where they live, and no matter their income or ability to pay, Canadians should have access to high-quality palliative care and medical assistance in dying — not just one or the other.”
On Thursday, Gokool said she was impressed to see many of DWDC’s recommendations reflected in the national framework, adding that the framework’s guiding principles must drive all public policy decisions surrounding end-of-life care. “Canadians can only benefit from an approach to palliative care that puts the person first, that accepts dying, grief, and bereavement as a part of life, that recognizes the crucial role caregivers play, and that sees palliative care as complementary with other forms of care.”
These values, she noted, are incompatible with efforts that are underway to prevent suffering Canadians from accessing their right to assisted dying in facilities that provide palliative care. Currently, dozens of publicly funded hospitals, hospices, and long-term care homes across Canada are forcing patients to transfer off-site to be assessed for or to receive MAID. This practice subjects vulnerable patients to immense additional pain and distress at a time when they are already suffering intolerably.
“Palliative care and medical assistance in dying are both essential options on a continuum of compassionate care at end of life,” Gokool said. “Canadians at end of life shouldn’t be forced to choose between one and the other; they have a right to have access to both.”