The debate over physician-assisted suicide hasn’t sucked all the oxygen out of the room when it comes to end-of-life issues, but it’s come pretty close, and a coalition of faith-based groups would like some attention given to a related issue that affects far more Canadians – improved access to palliative care.
This week, representatives of Jewish, Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian and Muslim groups called on elected officials “to support a robust, well-resourced, national palliative care strategy and to raise awareness of inadequacies in palliative care.”
In a statement, representatives of the faith groups also warned that, “assisted dying/suicide must not become a default choice for those struggling with terminal illnesses and that it is a national imperative to enhance access to and the quality of palliative care.”
Speaking to The CJN Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said that physician assisted dying (PAD) affects “a fraction of a fraction of the population who would contemplate that choice.”
Most Canadians won’t make that choice, but they do want “the best possible care at that time.”
However, across the country, “there are not enough beds, resources, health care professionals.” Furthermore, expensive acute care beds are being used by those near the end of life, increasing the costs to the health care system. And in some parts of the country, there are no palliative care facilities at all, forcing people to travel out of their communities to find the appropriate care, or do without, he said.
The faith groups are calling on both the provincial and federal levels of government to address this issue, Fogel said. While health care is a provincial responsibility, “there are federal tools to provide the provinces with the capacity to provide better palliative care,” such as transfer payments as well as by defining the appropriate standard of care.
Canadians are entitled to the same quality of medical care wherever they live in the country, he added.
In calling on government to improve palliative care, the faith groups noted that “compassion is a foundational element of Canadian identity that should directly shape Canadian public policy when it comes to end-of-life issues.”
“The need for quality, widely accessible palliative care should be one of the most pressing concerns of our country,” said the Most Reverend Noel Simard, Bishop of Valleyfield, on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Faith communities, along with health care workers, have for centuries stood by the bedsides of the dying to comfort and protect, to heal and console. Today, as faith leaders, we recommit ourselves to this sacred task of providing the spiritual care so essential to palliative care.”
“People at the end of life need our care and tangible expressions of love. Palliative care alleviates the suffering of those nearing the end of life, yet, lamentably, it is not accessible to everyone,” said Julia Beazley, director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. “As faith communities and as Canadians, we must commit to making high-quality palliative care available to all.”
“It is our duty to care for one other and offer assistance in times of need,” said Imam Sikander Hashmi, a spokesperson for the Canadian Council of Imams. “Fortunately, many Canadians take this responsibility very seriously. We must ensure though that the ill and dying are not left out of our care and compassion. Every life is worth living and saving. Let us come together to enhance and cherish life.”
Fogel said CIJA would reach out to its constituent base to join in calling on politicians to make end-of-life palliative care a high priority.