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CMA forums on end-of-life care: “If we don’t start this discussion, who will?”

The CMA wasn’t shy about raising controversial issues in recent years as it went across the country to discuss health care with Canadians.

Using a town-hall format, it held discussions on the future of Canada’s health care system in 2011, and last year it tackled the impact social inequity has on Canadians’ health. This year it will venture further into controversial territory by hosting discussions on the contentious issues — physician-assisted death, for example — that surround end-of-life (EOL) care.

“I think we’re doing Canadians a favour — we’re encouraging a discussion that we absolutely need to have,” said CMA President Louis Hugo Francescutti. “Last summer I told a reporter that the CMA is not going to lead the way in proposing policy because policy on end-of-life care is something all Canadians have to decide. However, what we can do is encourage the discussion — get it going, if you will — and that’s exactly what these new town-hall forums will do.”

Francescutti announced the series of 2014 town halls during a Feb. 19 speech to the Economic Club of Canada.

Interest in EOL care has ebbed and flowed in recent years, but two recent factors — significant court cases and Canada’s rapidly changing demographic profile — have turned it into a top-of-mind issue for physicians and patients.

Beginning in February, the CMA will provide the first national forum for discussing EOL issues when it hosts town halls across the country:

  • St. John’s (Feb. 20)
  • Vancouver (March 24)
  • Whitehorse (April 16)
  • Regina (May 7)
  • Mississauga, Ont. (May 27)

All of the two-hour sessions, which will open and close with remarks from Francescutti, will focus on three topics: advance care planning, palliative care and physician-assisted dying. The town halls will be moderated by journalists from Maclean’s magazine, which is a co-partner in the exercise. All town halls will also include a three-member panel, and public participation will be encouraged.

Francescutti, who experienced the issues raised by end-of-life care personally last year when his mother died at age 83, expects to hear a “challenging and lively” discussion on many questions.

What are the respective roles of physicians and patients when it comes to having end-of-life discussions? What is “good” palliative care? If quality palliative care is available, do we still need to discuss euthanasia and assisted suicide?

“Last year we devoted half of our annual meeting to this topic because we wanted to know what our members thought,” said Francescutti. “Now it’s time to hear from the public. If we don’t start this discussion, who will?”

Details about the upcoming town halls are available at www.cma.ca.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.