The coronavirus exposes the need for compassionate palliative care

Many are left wondering why we can crowd around in a Walmart or Canadian Tire, but are not able to be with our loved ones in the final days of their life.

Jeremy Patzer Saskatchewan, Canada
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A critical conversation that needs to come out of the COVID-19 outbreak is the need for quality palliative care. Prior to COVID-19, the Liberal Government presented Bill C-7 before the House, which was intended to determine the safeguards surrounding euthanasia.

One of the many concerns I have with Bill C-7, however, is that it does nothing to address palliative care. COVID-19 has put long-term care and palliative care under the spotlight, with around 80 percent of COVID related deaths coming from care homes. We have all heard the horror stories of what has happened in Quebec and Ontario where care homes have failed to provide patients with proper care and many seniors are left to die with no loved ones at their side.

These dire situations hit close to home. My wife’s grandma is in the care wing of a seniors' living space that has been under a lockdown order since the Province of Saskatchewan declared a state of emergency. She has been confined to her own room with no one being permitted to drop by and visit.

While the care staff have been exceptional, they cannot replace the love a family member can give. We have been forced to watch from outside her window over the last two months as her condition has deteriorated. We have been unable to simply hold her hand or offer her the loving hugs of her great grandchildren that have always been a source of smiles and laughter for her.

Often, we hear of people dying of a broken heart, but I truly believe this is a case of dying of a lonely heart. By the time this op-ed finds its way to publication, she will most likely have passed on to be with her Saviour in Heaven.

While some provinces have revised visitation protocols for end-of-life situations, many hospitals and long-term care homes are still forbidding access to loved ones, even with personal protective equipment. Many people are left wondering why we can crowd around in a Walmart or Canadian Tire, but we are not able to sit in with our loved ones and be with them in the final days of their life.

No amount of FaceTime or telephone calls can replace the physical touch and proximity our seniors need and crave. In fostering an improved quality of life at the end of life, it is important to be with the dying, to share their burden, and to love them.

For these reasons, I urge all provinces to consider implementing less restrictive end-of-life visitation protocols.  Everyone deserves the dignity of saying goodbye to their loved ones, even in the midst of a global health crisis.

In the words of New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jennifer Russell, it is possible to "provide compassionate access for loved ones while continuing to protect those at greatest risk." While health and safety must continue to be our top priority as we fight COVID-19, we can do better as a society by adding compassion to care.

In attempting to preserve life, let’s not disregard quality of life, as it becomes increasingly clear that the latter can have a significant effect on the former.

Jeremy Patzer is the MP for Cypress Hills—Grasslands

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