Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 9, 2006
Palliative care at crossroads after federal funding cuts
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
The federal government has cut funding to the Health Canada's Secretariat on Palliative and End-of-Life Care, a move advocates say is a step in the wrong direction.
A previous Liberal government set up the secretariat four years ago, following a report on palliative care by Senator Sharon Carstairs.
The $400,000 it will receive, with another $300,000 pending is substantially less than the $1.7 million budgeted for 2005-06. And there is no guarantee the secretariat will receive the pending funds.
In an interview Carstairs said she was "disturbed" by the cuts.
"If we're going to deal effectively with promoting palliative care instead of euthanasia and assisted suicide, the public has to be aware of the alternative which is palliative care," Carstairs said.
She has argued repeatedly that no debate about euthanasia or assisted suicide should take place until Canadians have a real choice through access to quality end of life care.
The cuts stem from a "failure to recognize we are an aging society," she said, noting the needs of the elderly are going to become much greater.
Statistical models predict that by 2025, Canada will experience 40 per cent more deaths per year than presently, she said.
Carstairs said even optimistic estimates show only 25 per cent of Canadians currently have access to quality end-of-life care. If the present level of care stays the same, but the death rate increases, the access rate will drop to 15 per cent, she warned.
"We're certainly headed in the wrong direction," said Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) executive director Sharon Baxter. "The government needs to reevaluate their priorities."
"This is a move backwards for end-of-life care," Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said in an interview.
Schadenberg said this is one of many cuts to palliative care across Canada. He said several provinces have cut funding for palliative care and hospitals have also cut their budgets.
"I think Canadians should stand up and oppose this in a major way," he said.
"Palliative care is at a crossroads," Schadenberg said. "There are so many things we can do today. But we lack the necessary funds to provide the care to the people who need it."
"There is no reason for people to have to suffer. That's really what it comes down to," he said.
Carstairs pointed out the cuts will gut a planned public awareness campaign among doctors, nurses and volunteers.