The mission statement of the deVeber Institute states that the Institute, “conducts and disseminates research on topics connected to human life in its biological, social and ethical dimensions.” The Institute furthermore carries out the responsibility of communicating the findings of their research to the public. On May 21, 2009, the Institute did just that. Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church (Wellesley Street E. & Sherbourne area, Toronto) graciously hosted a symposium conducted by the Institute on the topic of palliative care. The symposium offered a panel of speakers including Lenore McGuire (Palliative Care Coordinator at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Toronto), and Dr. Paul Zeni (a physician and palliative care specialist in Georgetown, Ontario). The symposium concluded with a warm and helpful Q&A period. The propositions and conclusions of both speakers are fundamental as palliative care is widely misunderstood.
There are many misconceptions surrounding palliative care. Generally, society does not understand its goals and successes. The first speaker, Lenore established that palliative care offers a peaceful, comfortable, and dignified passage for the dying and terminally ill. By profiling the journeys of several terminally ill patients (including that of her own father) this first speaker was able to convey to the audience how special one’s last days can be. The degree of peacefulness experienced in one`s passing hinges on the employment of proper palliative care. The stigmatization of palliative care stems from a breakdown in communication between physicians and patients. This disconnect can be augmented by a variety of concerns ranging from language incompatibility between doctors and patients. Further complicating issues are the attempts of doctors or patients’ families to be tactful to a dying loved one. These miscommunications must be addressed. Palliative care professionals are to discipline themselves to communicate the gravity of the patient’s diagnosis both succinctly and sensitively.
Dr. Paul Zeni sought to more accurately define palliative care than what is frequently assumed. According to Dr. Zeni, palliative care is “compassionate care for the dying.” Palliative care professionals are those who address the symptoms of the patient’s illness. The patient’s illness is dealt with directly by other medical professionals. The most significant conclusion for Dr. Zeni’s listeners is the role they can play in caring for the terminally ill. Many terminally ill patients are convinced that they will die a drawn out and lonely death. Dr. Zeni offered that if a terminally ill patient’s loneliness is relieved through the company of others, they will be less likely to desire euthanasia. Dr. Zeni concluded that the patient’s wills must be respected. The patient’s needs must be met according to the patient’s request. Those around the patient must also spend quality time with the patient.
Listeners of this symposium can be reassured in knowing that palliative care allows patients a dignified passage. Palliative care can be of such quality that the patient maintains a very high quality of life during the patient’s final months, weeks, and days. Listeners are to be reminded, however, that there remains a great need for more hospices and palliative care support workers. Government funding is required. This is a cause which should be supported by all who value the dignity of the vulnerable.