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End-of-life town hall: "We're here to talk about one of the most important issues of our time"

When the CMA held its latest public town hall session on end-of-life care in Whitehorse in April, it chose an auspicious day because the April 16 meeting coincided with National Advance Care Planning Day.

That alignment proved appropriate because encouraging Canadians to discuss their end-of-life wishes with loved ones has been a key message during all of the CMA’s 2014 town halls for both the public and its members.

Approximately 150 Yukon residents attended the Whitehorse meeting, and many of them told personal stories and discussed topics ranging from palliative care to euthanasia and physician-assisted dying.

It was the third in a series of five public town halls the CMA is hosting in conjunction with Maclean’s, and the meeting was also broadcast live via webcast, giving the discussion a national audience.

The meeting, which was chaired by Maclean’s Ottawa Bureau Chief John Geddes, featured a three-member panel:

  • Wenda Bradley, a family caregiver and community nurse
  • Dr. Danusia Kanachowski, a palliative care physician who practises in Whitehorse
  • Dr. Jeff Blackmer, director of ethics at the CMA

CMA President Louis Hugo Francescutti provided the opening and closing remarks, but stressed that his role was to listen on behalf of Canada’s doctors. “Your opinions are going to be so incredibly important,” he said.

“We are here to talk about one of the most important issues of our time, and one of the most complex,” added Geddes.

The complexity Geddes referred to was reflected well during the meeting, particularly via the heartfelt nature of many of the comments. Certain common themes were also apparent, such as the importance of having conversations about end-of-life wishes, acknowledging the reality of preparing for death, and the need for comprehensive palliative care services.

Local issues were also discussed, such as the value of the hospice in Whitehorse and the lack of a specific palliative care centre separate from the city’s hospital, as well as the absence of palliative services elsewhere in the Yukon.

When the discussion turned to euthanasia, Blackmer noted that the CMA opposes the practice. “We have our opinion, but we respect that this is a societal debate,” he said, adding that discussion is underway at the CMA about what parameters will be required in the event euthanasia is legalized in Canada.

The two remaining town-hall meetings will be held in Regina May 7 and Mississauga, Ont., May 27. The CMA is also consulting its members in a parallel series of meetings, and is hosting an online consultation for members at More than 1,000 physicians have already registered for that discussion, and meetings with members have been held in St. John’s, Edmonton, Fredericton and Vancouver.

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