Montreal conference Palliative care is not only for the dying

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Palliative care doesn’t just serve the dying, experts say.

Palliative care focuses on improving lives, on easing suffering and comforting patients with life-threatening illnesses, said Kappy Flanders, co-chair of the Council on Palliative Care, in an interview Tuesday from Montreal’s Palais des Congrès, where 1,700 delegates from around the world are gathering for an international conference on end-of-life care.

“There is a lack of understanding of what palliative care does,” Flanders said, noting that it’s not just cancer patients who can receive such care.

“It’s important and understudied. Seventy per cent of the population doesn’t know about it, and it’s sad,” she said. “They think it’s the last three days. But it’s not. It should be introduced early — at the diagnosis of life-threatening diseases.”

Presented by Palliative Care McGill, McGill University since 1976, the International Congress on Palliative Care is being held until Friday. 

Many of the ill and the dying cannot get palliative care, Flanders said, noting there is still a long way to go when it comes to offering such care to those who request it.

“If there was more palliative care available, there would be less need for laws on assisted dying,” Flanders said.

As part of the congress, the Council is inviting the public to a free screening of an award-winning film, The Little Stars, narrated by British actor David Suchet. It will be followed by a discussion with pediatrician Hal Siden, medical director of Canuck Place Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, B.C.

The Little Stars tells life-affirming stories of children around the world living with life-limiting illnesses, who are are making the most of every moment with support of their families and palliative care teams. The film screens Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Palais des Congrès.

cfidelman@postmedia.com