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June 23, 2014

In the last month, both the House of Commons and the Canadian Medical Association have called on the federal government to bring in a national palliative care strategy that will improve the quality of life for the dying. Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose says she supports that call and will "continue" to discuss the upgrading of palliative care with the provinces.

Currently, more than 260,000 Canadians die each year with only a small proportion receiving high quality palliative care. Most Canadians say they would prefer to die at home, rather than in a hospital or nursing home. For many, that option doesn't exist.

The provision of palliative care is increasing as is public awareness of its importance. However, the number of people dying every year is also increasing ⁷ by 2036, the number is expected to rise to more than 425,000 Canadians annually.

A national palliative care strategy is not a vague idea. Ideally, it would, first, provide more financial and other support for caregivers, especially family members, to accompany a dying person in their own home. Second, it would provide greater access to palliative care in hospices. Third, it would strive for consistency in the provision of quality palliative care in hospitals across the country.

Further steps would include increased training of palliative care professionals in the proper use of pain medication and symptom management, provision of necessary medical equipment and increased research about best practices.

In applauding the passage of the House of Commons motion, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, "I hope the Canadian government will take this sign seriously and will seek to move this project forward in any way possible." We heartily agree with the archbishop.

The goal of palliative care is to reduce the suffering of the dying. Canada needs more and better palliative care to eliminate two reasons people give for legalizing euthanasia ⁷ too many people are kept unnaturally alive by excessive use of technology and many people suffer needlessly at the end of their lives. Canada also needs good end-of-life care simply because it is the right thing to do.