India's 'father of palliative care' brings message of community compassion to B.C.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. M.R. Rajagopal says while it's great that diseases can be cured, the pain of suffering is often not treated.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. M.R. Rajagopal says while diseases can be cured, suffering is often not treated

Compassionate medical care must draw on the community and be a partnership, Dr. Rajagopal emphasizes. (Hippocratic/Moonshine Agency )

India's "father of palliative care" is touring North America, spreading a message of compassion and how to involve the whole community in medical care.

Dr. M.R. Rajagopal, or Dr. Raj as he's known to patients and colleagues, made two stops in British Columbia — in Victoria and Vancouver — to speak at palliative care events and screen a movie about his life's work called Hippocratic: 18 Experiments in Gently Shaking the World.

The documentary refers to Greek physician Hippocrates' belief that a doctor's duty is to cure sometimes, treat often and to comfort always. 

Dr. Rajagopal is renowned for advocating for comfort and compassion above all. 

"That's something the global medical system seems to have forgotten completely," he told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"I can help my patients only if I can also persuade the medical system to be compassionate." 

The message in Dr. Rajagopal's new film is that gentle actions can shake the world. (Screenshot from Hippocratic/Moonshine Agency )

Loneliness in care

Dr. Rajagopal, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, said the technological advances that have made diagnosis and treatment of so many diseases possible is great but "aggressive disease-focused care" often doesn't treat the pain of suffering.

"When I go into hospices, I find a lot of lonely people," he said. "There are lonely aging people out there in the community also."

The documentary looks at the ethical use of modern medicine and attempts to break down some of the stigma surrounding opioids.

It comes at a time when attitudes toward pain relief have started to shift in North America in light of the overdose epidemic and over-prescription of opioid-based treatments.

Dr. Rajagopal is adamant that the medical care needs to be a partnership between doctors and the community at large.

"Our work is community oriented and with community participation," Dr. Rajagopal said.

"In any community, there are kind-hearted people who are willing to help others if we allow the community to get a bit of training on basic care and encourage them to come and help with caring for the elderly."

Grassroots, community-based care has taken off in his home base of Kerala, in southern India, he said, and the same would be beneficial in B.C. communities.

"I can help my patients only if I can also persuade the medical system to be compassionate,” says Dr. M.R. Rajagopal. 5:38

With files from The Early Edition