When we think of palliative care, we often think it is only for the dead and dying, however new studies are showing that it may in fact extend life. We long have associated palliative care with the end of life, where doctors and patients see it as the end of the road for a patient that has been treated with all other options being exhausted. However, there is growing debate that this type of care can in fact extend life, and will allow patients greater insight into how and in what condition they want to live out their remaining days.

Spurred by the ageing baby boomer population In Canada these days, it seems there is growing debate among Canadians about how they wish to die, and whether they should have the right to choose. However Mary Shariff, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, argues that that debate can’t happen until palliative care is available to all, currently with fewer than about 30% of the population will have access to palliative care.

Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association, says, “not only do patients balk at the mention of it, but physicians are slow to refer them”. “The mindset is, there’s always one more thing we can do,” one more treatment to pursue. “Palliative care suffers from an identity problem,” reads a commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine last December. Seventy per cent of people surveyed say they’re “not at all knowledgeable” about palliative care; surprisingly, many believe it hastens death. The truth is, Palliative care aims to relieve patients’ suffering and improve quality of life, supporting them and their families through serious illness. It is this re-defining of what palliative care means to Canadians, that will allow us to integrate it more widely into the medical care system. 

There are many people fighting hard in Canada to unlink end-of-life with palliative care in doctors and patients’ minds. And given Canada’s ageing population, and the benefits palliative care have shown, it will become more critical to allow more people access to this type of care.

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