How can a supposedly caring nation endorse a right to die without also offering a right to live out final days with compassionate care? CNS photo/Lawrence Looi, EPA

Show us the money

By 
  • March 31, 2016

If there is an issue that unites most politicians, health workers, social agencies and religious leaders, it is the urgent need for a bold strategy and major investment in palliative and hospice care.

That has been apparent for many years but it is particularly acute now that assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal. A trickle of Canadians have already opted to die this way and the floodgates are set to open as Parliament rushes to pass new laws by June 6.

In light of all that, the federal budget tabled March 22 was crushingly disappointing. Despite Liberal election promises to inject $3 billion over four years towards the expansion of affordable, high-quality home and palliative care, not a single penny was earmarked for this essential national cause.

Maybe the cold-shoulder could be justified in a savings year. But the Liberals will spend more than $290 billion in the coming cycle and project a deficit of almost $30 billion. They will invest in all manner of infrastructure and social projects, but on the matter of working with provinces to fund essential, compassionate care for people facing death, apparently there is not a loonie to spare.

This failing would be regrettable at any time but it is particularly perplexing as Canada becomes a society which legally permits doctors to kill consenting patients. The Supreme Court believes, regrettably, that people in chronic physical or emotional distress and the terminally ill deserve the option of assisted suicide. But asking them to choose between a doctor-assisted death and a death without proper end-of-life care is no choice at all.

Fewer than 30 per cent of Canadians have access to the medical, emotional and spiritual support of institutional or home-based palliative care. As a result, the dying end up in hospitals where they rely on expensive, overwhelmed resources. It’s costly, inefficient and soulless.

How can a supposedly caring nation endorse a right to die without also offering a right to live out final days with compassionate care? Society should feel morally obligated to make palliative care integral to every end-of-life discussion. It should be ashamed if it fails to do so.

But that’s what this budget proposes. The government has sidestepped its own election promises and two federal committees which recommended that the onset of assisted suicide be offset by investments in palliative care. Without that investment, most Canadians will continue to be denied a true choice as the cheaper, quicker option of assisted death sweeps the nation.

Hardest hit will be the poor, the aged, the disabled and others society often rejects. Without the option of end-of-life care many despondent people will give in to death by doctor. For them, assisted death will hardly be a choice. It will seem like their only option.

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