What is hospice and palliative care?

According to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, palliative care is defined as:

"the combination of active compassionate therapies intended to comfort support individuals and their friends and families who are living with, or dying from, a progressive life threatening illness, or are bereaved."

The terms palliative care and hospice care are often used synonymously.

The notion of hospice initially began as a place of comfort and refuge for weary travellers in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, the modern hospice is more a philosophy than an actual place. A hospice program provides compassionate care to dying persons in their home or in a home-like setting. The modern day founder of the hospice movement is Cicely Saunders. In 1967, Dr. Saunders established St. Christopher's Hospice in London, England to assist dying persons during their final days. Through the pioneering work at St. Christopher's the basic philosophies of the hospice movement were developed.

There are three main goals of hospice palliative care:

First, hospice/palliative care assists in controlling pain and symptoms of the illness. Most terminally ill people fear pain more than death itself. In providing good pain control, hospice/palliative care can alleviate much of the dying person's fears and anxieties.

The second goal of hospice/palliative care is to ensure death is a natural process. As a result, medical interventions such as respirators and tube feeding are not used to keep people alive. The goal of care is not to prolong life, but to provide the best quality of life during the final days before death.

Finally, hospice/palliative care programs strive to provide compassionate care. Professionals, non-professionals and volunteers function as a team and have a special interest in working in the field of palliative care. As a result, helpers are sensitive to the needs of the dying person and his/her family. The right to die with dignity is strongly upheld.

Philosophy of Care

  • Hospice care is the active, compassionate care of the terminally ill and is provided with the purpose of assisting individuals with a life threatening illness to live full, active and independent lives for as long as possible.
  • Hospice care should be equitable to all individuals living with a terminal illness.Hospice clients along with their families and loved ones should be encouraged to understand the options available to them and is an important component in developing a plan of care.
  • Hospice care should be delivered by a multidisciplinary team that provides sensitive and skilled care to meet the physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of both the individual and the family.
  • Hospice care should be individualized; provide services that are adaptable and responsive to the special needs of the individual and their loved ones; and must not be disease specific.
  • Hospice care services must be available to individuals living with a terminal illness wherever they reside; including Long Term Care Facilities, Hospitals and the individual's own home.
  • Hospice care education of service providers is essential to maximize the quality of care delivered to individual's living with a terminal illness and their loved ones.
  • Hospice care service providers and agencies must maintain confidentiality of the individual and family.
  • Hospice care should be timely and available when it is needed to be effective in providing quality Hospice care.