Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hospice Palliative Care

Improving the quality of dying
On Thursday, May 12, health care facilities across the country celebrated Canada Health Day. It was a day to promote healthy lifestyles, to share experiences and to celebrate the successes of public health.

An announcement in my church’s bulletin drew Canada Health Day to my attention. The announcement was a reminder to celebrate and pray for the gift of health in all its aspects - physical, emotional, social and spiritual.

The spiritual aspect of health is often ignored. The public conversation on health tends to focus on the economics of health care, access to services, prevention, and treatment. Ethics are also part of the discourse as technologies raise questions regarding the appropriateness of extending or prolonging an individual’s life.

People are living longer and, in many cases, healthier lives. Today’s 60 year old is compared to the 40 year old of decades ago. Successive generations may look and feel younger than the previous generation, but no one lives forever. Eventually, the body succumbs to the one sure reality in life – death.

The reality of death should make spiritual health an integral part of health care. End-of-life issues go beyond relieving physical pain and the ethics of prolonging life. Care for the dying and their families should encompass a holistic approach that takes into consideration the nature of the human person.

Religions derived from the Hebrew Bible (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), recognize that the human person is more than a complex combination of cells and physiological interactions. The human person is a mysterious living complexity of body and soul. 

Created in the image of God, the human person has an innate dignity and goodness, and deserves to be treated with respect at all stages of life. 

Spiritual health needs to enter the public health care conversation, particularly when speaking about the needs of those nearing death or those living with a terminal illness.  A more holistic view of health, one that includes spirituality, could improve the quality of our dying.

Hospice palliative care offers a holistic approach in caring for those with terminal illness, the dying and their families. Using an integrated team of health care professionals and trained volunteers, hospice palliative care addresses pain management, provides psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural and practical support for the dying and their families, and offers bereavement support.

This approach is successful in improving the quality of the life that remains, and in reducing the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual suffering that accompanies the process of dying.

Despite the benefits of hospice palliative care, very few provinces treat it as a core health service. Fifty percent of funding for hospice palliative care programs comes from charitable giving. Many families shoulder the financial cost of caring for a dying family member at home.

We are all going to die. There is no fountain of youth or elixir of immortality. A public discussion on health care must consider the importance of a quality death, as well as the quality of life.

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