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Debate on an amendment to Bill C-277, An Act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada

Debate on an amendment to Bill C-277, An Act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada

Debate on an amendment to Bill C-277, An Act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada

Hon. Jane Cordy: 

Honourable senators, I would like to speak in support of the amendment proposed by Senator Petitclerc.

During the study of this bill before the Social Affairs Committee, Ms. Baxter, the Executive Director of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, testified in response to a question at the committee hearings. She said:

We actually are a big proponent of the need to have a public awareness campaign or education campaign, and it was part of the comments that I made. It is not in the bill as it is, and, if there were amendments to the bill, it might be a good thing to have.

Honourable senators, please let me remind you that it was only in 1974 that the first palliative care programs in Canada were established in Winnipeg and Montreal. We are dealing with what is still a relatively young field. Although we have made great strides since those first programs were established, palliative care has always had and continues to have challenges with public awareness. Practitioners in the field understand what palliative care is. Those of us in the public realm who have worked in this area understand what palliative care is. But there is still often a problem with awareness and understanding in the general public.

Another witness who appeared before the Social Affairs, Science and Technology study of Bill C-277 was Dr. Jill Rice, the Interim Medical Chief of the Department of Palliative Medicine at Bruyère Continuing Care, HealthCareCAN. She noted how in other countries there are education curricula in palliative and end-of-life care at elementary and secondary school levels.

Recently I attended an event with Pallium Canada. There was a strong emphasis on the need to educate the public on palliative care. The common refrain that afternoon was that palliative care is “everyone’s business.”

Dr. José Pereira, one of this nation’s leading palliative care specialists, told the story at the meeting about wanting to administer pain control medication to a suffering patient who was dying and in great pain. The family said no to pain medication and to allowing the patient to die pain-free because they did not believe in euthanasia. Unfortunately, they did not understand the difference between pain management and actively ending someone’s life.

Senator Mégie spoke earlier this afternoon about the fear that some families have about palliative care, and much of that is likely due to a lack of knowledge about it.

This is not a case of a lack of education of our medical practitioners, as that is covered in this bill. Rather, it exemplifies the gaps in public education. Still, to this day, it would seem that a number of Canadians equate palliative care with euthanasia. We need to have those discussions, honourable senators, and that is why Senator Petitclerc’s amendment is so important.

In Canada, we are a death-denying society, and it is very difficult for many Canadians to discuss or even listen to discussions about our own mortality. Understanding goals of care is critical to providing appropriate care, yet in our death-denying society, those conversations are often not happening as they should.

We know that palliative care sometimes suffers from misconceptions, lack of awareness and cultural attitudes. Other countries are making sure that their children — their elementary school children — are aware of palliative care. Yet this bill, directing the creation of a national framework, has somehow neglected this important component. We have acknowledged that more education for professionals and caregivers is required, but we have somehow left out public awareness and public education. This is a glaring omission in this bill.

The bill’s preamble affirms the importance of ensuring all Canadians have access to high-quality palliative care. A key part of access, honourable senators, is awareness. You will not access what you don’t know exists.

Honourable senators, I fully support this amendment because, as Pallium Canada says, palliative care is “everyone’s business.”