Palliative care – the good and the bad

Woody Allen, when asked for his opinion about death, replied, “I don’t worry about dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”

Unfortunately, Allen will be there and so will the rest of us.

This week, I have a personal interest in the end of life. And what can we all do to provide the best of care to loved ones near death?

Years ago, I conducted a five-year battle to legalize heroin to ease the agony of dying cancer patients.

Readers, at that time, sent me funds to help with costs. Finally, when heroin was legalized in 1998, $450,000 was left in the kitty which I donated to the University of Toronto, Faculty of Medicine, to establish the Gifford-Jones Professorship in Pain Control and Palliative Care.

For an update of the current situation, I recently interviewed Dr. Jeff Myers, the current professor of palliative care.

Dr. Myers and his colleagues have not been idle.

Today, many doctors are being trained in palliative care. There are now more hospital beds to care for dying patients along with better symptom control. But some ‘ifs’ remain.

I asked Dr. Myers what was the stumbling block surrounding palliative care.

He replied, “The reality is, 100 per cent of us will eventually die. So faced with this indisputable fact we must ensure we depart in the most humane way possible.” This means total and effective palliative care for every person.

Myers reported one shocking problem.

Some doctors are not providing adequate painkillers, even when patients have only a short time to live, for fear of causing addiction!

This reasoning boggles my mind as years ago I heard this same asinine argument when I was trying to legalize heroin for patients in agony at death’s door.

Dr. Myers is concerned this reluctance will be compounded by the current epidemic of opioid drug deaths.

Since doctors are being blamed for causing this problem by over-prescribing opioids, they may be less likely to prescribe them to dying patients. But from my research dying patients do not become addicted to painkillers when they are used for pain.

Addiction occurs when drugs are used repeatedly for pleasure. So let’s stop blaming doctors for all of the opioid deaths.

Another major obstacle according to Dr. Myers is that medical students get very few hours of training in palliative care. This is concerning, given the universal need.

Today the Supreme Court of Canada and some U.S. states have declared a legal right to request doctor-assisted death. But we do not have a right to adequate palliative care!

The brutal truth is that for the majority of people, palliative care is not an option as it is just not available.

For example, today 40% of cancer patients do not get palliative care during their final year of life. And in some areas of the country less than half of those who die in a hospital receive palliative care.

The problem will get worse as today 80% of patients being treated in palliative care facilities are suffering from cancer. Since we are an aging population the demand for palliative care centers will increase.

Dr. Francis W. Peabody, professor at The Harvard Medical School, is remembered for his remark, “The secret of caring for the patient is caring for the patient.”

There is no better example than caring for loved ones at the end of life.

So what can be done to assure we leave this planet with the least possible trauma?

The primary need is to fund the training of doctors and other medical personnel in palliative care.

If you feel this plea for better palliative care strikes a chord, send a donation to Gifford-Jones Professorship in Pain Control and Palliative Care, University of Toronto – Queen’s Park Crescent West, Toronto, Ontario. The postal code is M5S 3H2.

Or call 1-416-978-7898. You can also give online by clicking

Like Woody Allen, we’d all prefer not to be there when death occurs. But unless we quickly discover Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, you can be assured you will be there sooner or later.

Just Posted

WATCH: Red Deerians come together to ‘light the night’

Traditional Red Deer Lights the Night sees thousands

Klaus trial continues with cross-examination of undercover officers

The Castor-area triple homicide trial continued on Friday

WATCH: Red Deerians get a taste of robotics

Alberta students show off their skills in Red Deer

Red Deer RCMP make high volume of arrests

Numerous suspects arrested in relation to property crime offences

Red Deer RCMP arrest two with multiple stolen IDs

Men had allegedly had stolen information from 15 people

WATCH: Red Deerians get a taste of robotics

Alberta students show off their skills in Red Deer

Dead boy’s father posts Facebook response after Appeal Court upholds conviction

David, Collet Stephan were found guilty in their son Ezekiel’s 2012 death from bacterial meningitis

Bank of Canada cautious of future rate hikes

The Bank of Canada remains cautious on future rate hikes due to low- inflation risk

London theatre received allegations against Kevin Spacey

The theatre said Thursday the 20 allegations deal with incidents between 1995 and 2013.

Da Vinci’s Christ painting sells for record $450M

The painting, “Salvator Mundi,” Latin for “Savior of the World,” is one a few paintings by Leonardo known to exist

Loblaws closing 22 stores, launching home delivery ahead of ‘difficult year’

“We are excited about our future. But…we expect 2018 will be a difficult year,” said Galen G. Weston, Loblaw CEO.

Walk of Fame bash celebrates David Suzuki, Donovan Bailey, Anna Paquin

Suzuki says he’ll be thinking of his late parents as he accepts the honour

Trudeau to personally unveil Liberals’ peacekeeping plan

This marks Canada’s first tangible step back into peacekeeping

Blake Shelton named Sexiest Man Alive 2017

“I think to describe myself as a child, one word comes to mind. And that’s fat.”

Most Read