Reflections on End-of-Life Care

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On February 2, the World Day for Consecrated Life, some 70 members of Religious Congregations took part in a time of reflection. They had been invited  by Bishop Claude Hamelin of the Saint-Jean-Longueuil diocese.

While Quebec ranks first in the world for Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD), support for palliative care receives less financial backing. In fact, no funds have been allocated to the construction of new palliative care homes since the law on MAiD came into force. This is what members of religious communities learned when they were invited to reflect on these issues under the theme “Taking one’s dignity in one’s hands or putting it back in one’s own.”

Renowned researcher and physician Dr. Patrick Vinay has devoted the last ten years of his medical career to palliative care. He continues to contribute to the board of directors of the Albatros organization in the Montérégie part of Quebec. During his presentation, he touched on several dimensions of the “precious end of life”, beginning with a clarification between palliative care and medical aid in dying.

“Dying in one’s own time…”

Doctor Patrick Vinay

In the case of palliative care at the end of life, he speaks of “pain and providing comfort” to enable people to live the last moments of their lives serenely. In his view, medical aid in dying is rather a way of “shortening life.” The distinction is even more striking when he refers to the choice offered to everyone, saying that “palliative care means dying in comfort when the time arrives, whereas MAiD means dying at one’s own chosen time.”

While stressing the legal obligation to offer a choice between these two options, the lecturer recalled the mission of palliative medicine. Palliative medicine focuses on treating patients in such a way so as to prevent unnecessary suffering, while supporting them and their loved ones in this final phase of life. This is diametrically opposed to the more rapid and less costly MAiD.

Dr. Vinay also highlighted the shortage of palliative care staff and the weakness of home care. He alerted his audience to the risks of euthanasia becoming increasingly desirable in the absence of palliative care and alternative therapeutic choices.

Reclaiming the availability of genuine choice

“We don’t always see the importance of living one’s life to the end, and the importance of good, effective comfort care for the patients and those around them. This opens the door to possible interior changes and a precious end to life.” A man of faith, the doctor wants the availability of a real choice to be required, while advocating that palliative care be universally available throughout Quebec, as recognized by law.

The diocesan meeting was organized jointly by Ms Francine Vincent and Sr. Nicole Alarie. It was chaired by Vicar General Jean Roudy.

Participants were invited to examine and discuss a separate issue for each group. The meeting continued with a Eucharistic celebration and refreshments. From what we have heard, the participants were delighted to come together for this conference, even though the topic requires further reflection.

To find out more, read the recent reports tabled in Quebec (in French only) and Ottawa.

Photo credit: Sr. Suzanne Brault