On May 27, 2014, the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research hosted a seminar on pain and dementia. Entitled “The Problem of Pain in Persons with Dementia: The Challenges of Assessment and Management,” it was attended by personnel from hospitals and care facilities, as well as chaplains and educated family members. Attendees traveled from as far away as Hamilton, Guelph, Maple, Uxbridge, and Peterborough.

Dr. Kathy Pfaff, lecturer and researcher at the University of Windsor, and palliative care pioneer Jean Echlin, a registered nurse, spoke on subjects such as collaboration in patient care, and the ethics of pain management.

Martha Crean, co-president of the de Veber Institute, told The Interim they have “focused for many years on deepening an understanding in the general public of palliative care (through) information evenings and seminars,” but “what we’ve recently been doing is research of our own.” Crean explained, “we felt it was time to enlarge the number of people who could spread the word about this approach and the reach of palliative care, (which) is not receiving the attention it needs to.”

Inspired by an international conference on palliative care taking place in Montreal this fall, the Institute wanted to provide a platform for a similar discussion in Toronto. She stressed the importance of pro-life advocates learning about palliative care. “We’re all going to die. The difference is how that life is going to end…fear is a motivating factor for people to consider euthanasia and assisted suicide, to rationalize something that goes against their grain in every other way.”

Crean said many people in our society fears the diminishing abilities and loss of control associated with strokes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Though we may pity individuals with these conditions, Crean said that a different attitude is needed to serve as an “antidote” to this mentality. “Pity places you above the other person. Compassion puts you on the same level. You feel with them. We are encouraged not to see the other person as less than fully human – someone we would not want to be.” Hope is another key component. “It doesn’t mean saying you’re not going to die, but saying every stage of life has its value.”