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Bishop Simard: Palliative care seeks to accompany people

Palliative care seeks to accompany men and women in the final moments of their life, according to Canadian Bishop Noël Simard, ahead of a Symposium on Palliative Care taking place this week in Toronto.

By Christopher Wells

Palliative care is not about “terminating someone’s life,” says Bishop Noël Simard. Instead, it means accompanying each person as their earthly life draws to a close, and attending to their physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. 

The Bishop of Valleyfield, Quebec, Canada, is chairing a Symposium on Palliative Care taking place this week in Canada, under the auspices of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Pontifical Academy for Life. 

In an interview with Vatican News ahead of the event, Bishop Simard noted the confusion around palliative care, where euthanasia is permitted under the euphemism “medical assistance in dying,” or MAID. The practice involves doctors or nurse practitioners to either administer drugs to end a patient’s life, or provide drugs that are administered by the patients themselves. 

Palliative care, by contrast, “is accompanying people’s lives,” said Bishop Simard, attempting to respond to all the person’s need. “So yes, we need to answer the problem of suffering and pain,” the Bishop says, “but at the same time, there are many other needs” that must be addressed. 

This week’s conference, entitled “Towards a Narrative of Hope: An International Interfaith Symposium on Palliative Care,” is aimed at promoting good palliative care, while also working to develop “a culture of responsibility” with regard to end-of-life care.”

Accompaniment is one of the major themes of the Symposium, and Bishop Simard was careful to explain what the term means. A key part of accompaniment is assuring the dying that they are not a burden to others but instead have dignity, which is never lost.

“We are telling them: ‘You are still a person loved by God. You have your place in society. And we are here to tell you that we love you,’” the Bishop said. 

It also means assuring them that they are not alone and expressing to them the compassion and tenderness of God that never leaves them. 

Bishop Simard likewise highlighted the importance of listening to the person, “to her fears, to her anxiety, and also to what she is unable to say… accompanying helps them to express” their hopes and fears as they approach the end of their lives. 

Palliative care, he continued, is also concerned for family members and other caregivers, for whom accompaniment can be a challenge. “We have to be there to listen to them and maybe offer them some respite,” he said, adding that listening to all those involved in palliative care is “essential.”

The Canadian Bishop also emphasized the necessity of accompaniment in the dying person’s spiritual life. Prayer and the reception of the Sacraments are important means to help the person prepare themselves “to go and join the Lord in glory,” reflecting the “very important role” of palliative care for the spiritual life. 

Bishop Simard concluded the interview by recalling Pope Francis’ regular calls for “closeness,” and highlighting the importance of being present, of holding a loved one’s hand and assuring them that they are not alone.

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