"So while life is a penultimate good, requiring us to take reasonable care of our lives, we are not morally obligated to seek or undergo burdensome therapies 'at all costs' that provide no benefit. Nor at the same time are clinicians morally obligated to 'do everything possible' if life has reached its natural conclusion and it is no longer medically appropriate. Such a stance is known as vitalism and is rejected by the Catholic moral tradition," according to Covenant Health's definition of palliative care included in the bishops' statement.
A Catholic approach to palliative care is a "person-centered approach," the bishops said, "which draws deeply from the scriptural understanding of healing, compassion and love."
This approach takes account of a patient's "body, mind and spirit" and tries to relieve human suffering while also attending to "the transcendent needs of the dying person and his/her loved ones, with special solicitude for the poor and disadvantaged."
There also needs to be more and better information available about palliative care resources for patients and their families in Canada, the bishops said. They advocated for public awareness campaigns about palliative care implemented in the country's health care systems, including resources that would take into account the needs of different cultures or of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
Furthermore, they advocated for the continued development of palliative care as a branch of medicine, one that would be of the highest quality and equally accessible by all Canadians, and which receives sufficient government funding.
In a person-centered approach to palliative care, people must never be reduced to statistics, and patients must never be made to feel that they are a burden on themselves or others, the bishops noted. They also advocated for better sick care leave so that patient-identified caregivers may better accompany their friends and loved ones at the end of their life.
The bishops also announced that they will be partnering with several other organizations in order to develop educational material and to promote palliative care within parishes and within their own health care system.
"For Catholics, the parish is a primary place where questions about life and suffering – both their meaning and purpose – are explored in silent prayer as well as in dialogue with others," the bishops said. "For this reason, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in partnership with Pallium Canada, Dominican University College, the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, and the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), has adopted the parish as a locus for canvassing and raising awareness about palliative care." They also emphasized the need to offer care to family members and caregivers, even after a patient's death.
"Those in the palliative care delivery team often extend their contact with the patient's self-identified caregivers beyond the patient's death," the bishops noted. "In doing so, the members of the palliative care delivery team can offer the bereaved support and serve as a catalyst for the bereaved person's healing and forgiveness. Such final reconciliation can help a person achieve a sense of closure and peace."
The bishops' document was submitted to the "Let's Talk Palliative Care" and "The End of Life Care Team" at the conclusion of the consultation.