Canada’s “father of palliative care” urges reform –

MONTREAL, Mar 19, 2001 ( – Dr. Balfour Mount, the 61-year-old Montreal physician who has been dubbed the “father of palliative care” in Canada, says that “Canada must dramatically improve its palliative care system for dying patients if it is to succeed as this country’s alternative to euthanasia and assisted suicide.” The National Post reports today on Dr. Mount’s comments from his article published in this month’s journal of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

In Canada, palliative care is only accessible to five percent of the population, he notes, stressing that if this situation is not dramatically improved there may be no way to withstand the pressure to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. He condemned the current do-nothing approach, saying that “we need decision-makers who recognize the unnecessary suffering experienced by dying Canadians, and political leaders who refuse to hide behind federal-provincial jurisdictional squabbling.”

In his article, Dr. Mount looked at the situation in the Netherlands, pointing out the loopholes that exist there, enabling people to evade the parameters that supposedly limit euthanasia, such as restrictions that ostensibly limit euthanasia only to those who voluntarily request to have their lives ended. He did not come out decisively against euthanasia and assisted suicide in terms of public policy, but he insisted that “we can’t possibly morally address the need for euthanasia until we’ve made palliative care available to people.”

Sharon Carstairs, government leader in the Senate, who has introduced euthanasia-related legislation in the Canada’s Upper House in previous parliaments told the Post that she agrees with Dr. Mount’s conclusions. “If we do not have quality palliative care in this country, people will be forced to make choices that don’t involve palliative care,” she said, adding that she’d prefer if Canada can “bypass” the debate over euthanasia by ensuring doctors are trained in pain relief. She and Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced last week that the Senator will assume a role with “special responsibility” for palliative care.