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Symposium on Palliative Care: ‘Hope is always possible’

As the international interfaith symposium on palliative care, entitled, “Towards a Narrative of Hope,” concludes in Toronto, participants affirm that hope is always possible, even in life’s most challenging moments.

By Christopher Wells

A two-day symposium on palliative care, sponsored by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life, concluded on Thursday with the affirmation that hope “is always possible, even in life’s most challenging moments.”

The theme of the conference, “Towards a Narrative of Hope,” was highlighted from the beginning in a message from Pope Francis to participants, in which he urged them to persevere in their efforts to promote palliative care. The Holy Father emphasized that care for the sick and dying is an expression of compassion and respect for the dignity of every human person.

The right to palliative care

The international, interfaith symposium featured healthcare professionals, advocates, and experts in ethics, medicine, law, and pastoral care. Throughout the event, participants insisted on the human right to palliative care and the need to improve access to such care in Canada and around the world.

They also clearly distinguished between palliative care, focused on supporting the needs of the sick and dying and alleviating their physical, spiritual, and emotional suffering; and euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, which are always assaults on the dignity of the person.

“Palliative care is the answer,” said symposium chair Bishop Noël Simard, “offering to the suffering and dying person an accompaniment based on love, compassion, and respect for the dignity of the human person until natural death.”

“Palliative care is the answer”

The symposium’s objectives

At a press conference following the Symposium, Bishop Simard explained the three main objectives of the symposium: building a strong advocacy network; developing a strategic framework for future actions; and, finally, producing resources for palliative care.

The final objective will be the focus of a working group and writing team that will produce a resource that aims to spread palliative care throughout our communities and societies, said Bishop Simard.

Speaking with Vatican Radio following the symposium, CCCB president Bishop William McGrattan said, “This Conference on Palliative Care has not only been international and interfaith. It has really been an opportunity for people to promote and to understand how the dignity of the human person is a social responsibility.” Noting the great commitment of participants, Bishop McGrattan added, “There were great signs of courage and hope. And the stories and narratives, I think, will bring new life to those who work to promote palliative care throughout the world.”

International and interfaith

For his part, Monsignor Renzo Pegoraro , the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life highlighted the collaboration of the Academy with the Church in Canada, which provided the symposium with an international perspective.

Monsignor Pegoraro also emphasized the interfaith dimension of the symposium, which featured contributions from Jewish, Muslim, evangelical, and indigenous voices. Although palliative care is by no means an exclusively religious idea, religions and faith communities can provide specific reasons and inspiration that can support palliative care and further efforts to make it accessible to all those who need it.

A strong commitment to life

Finally, highlighting important themes of the symposium, Bishop McGrattan said, “Each of us, as a member of society, has a duty to assist and love the sick and dying and to support their loved ones with compassion so that no one is isolated, alone, or forgotten in their time of need.” He said this week’s symposium, “signifies a strong commitment to life and holistic care, which will bear much fruit.”

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