Palliative Care: Mitigating Suffering and Embracing Compassion

Palliative care is a specialized approach to healthcare that focuses on improving the quality of life for patients facing life-threatening illnesses. It aims to alleviate physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering, providing comprehensive support to patients and their families. We will explore the concept of palliative care, its origins, and its significance in modern healthcare. There is a special role at the University of Ottawa Institute of Palliative Care in advancing this field of study, while also examining the potential influence of Christianity, particularly the teachings of Jesus Christ, on the compassionate nature of palliative care.

 – And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.

Defining Palliative Care

Palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach that addresses the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs of patients with serious illnesses. It focuses on symptom management, pain relief, and emotional support, aiming to enhance the overall well-being of patients. Unlike curative treatments, palliative care does not seek to cure the underlying disease but rather to improve the patient’s quality of life.

The University of Ottawa Institute of Palliative Care

The University of Ottawa Institute of Palliative Care is a renowned institution dedicated to advancing palliative care education, research, and practice. It plays a crucial role in training healthcare professionals to provide compassionate and comprehensive care to patients facing life-threatening illnesses. By offering specialized programs and conducting research, the institute contributes to the development of evidence-based practices in palliative care.

Mitigating Suffering: The Core of Palliative Care

At the heart of palliative care lies the desire to mitigate suffering. This approach recognizes that suffering extends beyond physical pain and encompasses emotional, psychological, and spiritual distress. Palliative care professionals work collaboratively to address these multifaceted aspects of suffering, providing holistic support to patients and their families.

 – A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Christianity and Palliative Care

Christianity, with its emphasis on compassion and caring for the vulnerable, has had a profound influence on the development of palliative care. The teachings of Jesus Christ, who demonstrated love and compassion towards the sick and suffering, have inspired many healthcare professionals to adopt a compassionate approach in their practice. Palliative care aligns with the Christian values of empathy, dignity, and respect for human life, making it a natural extension of Christian principles.

Jesus Christ as a Model of Compassionate Care

Jesus Christ’s ministry was characterized by his unwavering commitment to healing the sick and comforting the suffering. His teachings emphasized the importance of showing compassion and providing care to those in need. The parable of the Good Samaritan, for instance, highlights the significance of extending help and support to the vulnerable. Palliative care, with its focus on relieving suffering and promoting comfort, embodies the compassionate care exemplified by Jesus Christ.

Palliative care, as a specialized approach to healthcare, plays a vital role in mitigating suffering and improving the quality of life for patients facing life-threatening illnesses. The University of Ottawa Institute of Palliative Care contributes significantly to the advancement of this field through education, research, and practice. Furthermore, the compassionate nature of palliative care aligns with the teachings of Jesus Christ, making it a natural extension of Christian values. By embracing palliative care, healthcare professionals can provide comprehensive support to patients and their families, ensuring that their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met during challenging times.

 – Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

Specialized Care for the Living

Palliative Care is a unique form of health care developed to address the needs of those with terminal illness. This specialty focuses on the needs of the patient and the family when cure for a life-threatening illness such as cancer or AIDS is no longer available.

A primary goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of a person’s life as death approaches and to help patients and their families move toward this reality with comfort, reassurance and strength. Palliative Care is not focused on death; it is about specialized care for the living.

The Challenge Facing Us

We face a staggering level of need – the number of people with terminal illness is growing rapidly. In developed countries, the aging of the population is expected to lead to a significant increase in deaths from cancer, cardiac, respiratory and other chronic illness.

In 1989, 2.9 million Canadians were over the age of 65. By the year 2011 this number will increase to 5 million. In 1995, deaths from cancer were approximately 61,500. However, experts predict that by the year 2010, the number of deaths from cancer will swell to over 105,000. Source: Laboratory Center for Disease Control, Health Canada.

Beyond Canada, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by the year 2015, 15 million people will develop cancer. This is in contrast to 9 million people in 1985. The WHO also estimates that by the year 2000, there could be as many as 110 million people infected with the AIDS virus.

Personal Burden and Suffering

These statistics paint an alarming picture – one of physical and psychological distress caused by a system that is not ready to accommodate this growth in the number of people with terminal illness. Most studies confirm that our present health care system is failing to meet the needs of the dying and that many are experiencing needless suffering. Yet field trials demonstrate that even simple initiatives in palliative care can help lessen this unnecessary burden of suffering.

 – For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.

Burden to Society

The cost of dying to our society is also immense. In developed countries, the care delivered to the terminally ill during the last few months of life represents the largest portion of their total lifetime health care costs. However, much of this cost is a consequence of initiating futile treatments – treatments that arise from our misplaced and often frantic need to prolong life even in the face of irreversible illness. Palliative care, by focusing on realistic goals and by facilitating care at home, can lower these costs significantly.

Health System Reconfiguration

The health care system in Canada and in most countries is undergoing fundamental and rapid change. In this decade, Canadians have already witnessed a 20% downsizing in their hospital budgets. The public considers improving the care of the dying to be a high priority.

Experts believe that governments, faced with decreasing funds and greater demand on our health care system, will escalate their involvement and commitment to proper care of the terminally ill outside the traditional hospital.

Palliative Care in the Community

Palliative care is at the cutting edge of the shift to home-based and community-empowered care that is central to most health care reform taking place today. In fact, palliative care is critical if our society is to successfully reorient health towards the community.

Today, many terminally ill patients and their families want to be free from the frenzy of the acute care hospital, preferring instead their own home or the personalized setting of a hospice or palliative care unit. Yet, the terminally ill are a vulnerable population that cannot defend or speak for themselves during this time of crisis and upheaval in their lives.

We must ensure that an appropriate infrastructure for provision of palliative care services outside the hospital is operational before this shift can take place.

 – But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

A Crisis of Trust

The societal debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide demonstrates public awareness of the importance of these issues. The cry for euthanasia also reflects fear and mistrust at both the individual and societal level. The fear of death and of the process of dying is a powerful psychological force. It can drive both patient decision-making and legislative changes.

Unlike euthanasia, palliative care focuses on controlling suffering and maximizing quality of remaining life, and is founded on highly-developed clinical expertise in pain and symptom management, timely and responsive patient-centered communications, and interdisciplinary team work. Palliative care stands against the legalization of euthanasia. Instead, it calls for justice through access to palliative care for all those who are dying. Enhancement of services, overcoming barriers to referral, and increased training and research in the control of suffering are the appropriate response to the present crisis.

Palliative Care In Canada

Canadian palliative care programs first developed in 1974-75 in Winnipeg and Montreal. Unlike the original United Kingdom models of private hospices, Canadian services have sought to be integrated into mainstream health care at both institutional and community levels. This “Canadian model” of palliative care is now the dominant approach worldwide.

Relatively, we have also been successful in maintaining a foothold in the universities and large teaching hospitals – a feat which has been difficult for our colleagues in the United States. Despite fairly rapid growth in the number of palliative care program in Canada, we have largely failed to ensure solid governmental funding and support as we enter a period of massive health downsizing. Without any concrete government policy at either the provincial or federal level, palliative care in Canada remains vulnerable.

 – And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

We must capture the imagination and support of legislators, media and consumers if we are to develop a comprehensive system to address the challenge of caring for the terminally ill.

In Canada, for information on Palliative Care programs contact:

Canadian Palliative Care Association
43 Bruyère Street
Canada K1N 5C8
Tel: (613) 241-3663 or 1-800-668-2785
Fax: (613) 562-4226
Palliative Care In Ottawa

Over the past 15 years, the need for palliative care has grown in this region as the incidence of cancer, AIDS, and other terminal illnesses continues to escalate. In the next decade, these diseases are expected to increase by 50% in the National Capital region as the population ages and more people enter their senior years.

Unique strengths and features of Ottawa’s palliative care network include:

National offices of the Canadian Palliative Care Association and other national health care organizations
a single large academic palliative care unit serving the entire region (the Ottawa Regional Palliative Care Centre) a coordinating and planning body for agencies that deliver palliative care in this region (the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Palliative Care Association)

National centre of excellence for research and education in palliative care (the University of Ottawa Institute of Palliative Care) strong local support from the Sisters of Charity (SCO) Health Service and the University of Ottawa.

 – Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

In spite of these strengths, several challenges remain. These include:

Preparing for the 50% increase in terminal illness expected in this decade accommodating the rapid shift from institutional to community-based care as a result of hospital restructuring. Ensuring that palliative care is strengthened and recognized in the present restructuring of our present health care system

In The National Capital Region contact:
Regional Palliative Care Association
75 Bruyère Street
Suite A373
Canada K1N 5C8
Tel: (613) 562-6363
Fax: (613) 562-6367