Federal end-of-life health bill to improve care for dying Canadians

A private member's bill aimed at making end-of-life health care better for Canadians from coast to coast became law Tuesday.

'In many areas access is below average or poor and certainly improving that for patients is key'

A private member's bill, sponsored by Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu, aims to establish a federal framework for palliative care in Canada. (Canadian Press)

A private member's bill with the goal of making end-of-life health care better for Canadians from coast to coast became law Tuesday.

Bill C-277, also known as the "Framework on Palliative Care in Canada Act," received Royal Assent on Tuesday.

The bill calls on the government to come up with a cohesive national plan that bridges the provinces and gives people who are dying the option of quality end-of-life care.

"This bill creates a framework ... that defines the palliative care services that will be covered by the government and the training for the different levels of service provider," explained Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu, who sponsored the  legislation.

At the end of the day, this is only going to be successful if it changes how patients receive care at the bedside.- Dr. Darren Cargill, palliative care physician

Palliative care physician at the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, Dr. Darren Cargill, said he's "very happy" and impressed by the bill. 

"What I like is the emphasis on improving access to palliative care," Cargill said. "It's not where we'd like it to be... In many areas access is below average or poor and certainly improving that for patients is key."

Dr. Darren Cargill, says he sees patients struggle to get access to publicly-funded palliative care. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Cargill said there are "tremendous gaps" when it comes to end of life care across the country. He hopes that this bill will help make it easier to bring that care where the patients are — whether that's in hospital, long-term care facilities or at home. 

Gladu drafted the bill in response to the legalization of physician assisted death. She said it's part of an effort to allow Canadians to "live as well as they can for as long as they can."

"As a new parliamentarian to see the whole process of how a law gets put into place and to feel that I had a part in something that will benefit millions of Canadians is really a humbling experience," she added.

Cargill said he hopes better access to palliative care will influence more patients to choose that option.

"Patients need to have that choice," he said. "That they can have the care that they want when they need it."

Better training

Another gap Cargill feels is seen across the country has to do with education and training for health care providers. He said that there is more work to be done in school and after for those in the industry.

"One of the things I saw in medical school was there wasn't a very heavy emphasis on palliative care and I know that spreads across areas like nursing, social work, even [Personal Support Worker] training," said Cargill. "Certainly we can all do a better job of training our health care providers in this area."

Work for the provinces

Health care is provided at the provincial level, said Cargill, and as part of this bill consultation will be done with the provinces. 

This is a great start,- Dr. Darren Cargill, Hospice of Windsor and Essex County

 "What this bill is going to do is provide sort of a framework for how palliative care can be improved across Canada," he said. "But ultimately we're going to see the results at the provincial level."

The consultation process will be an important time for heath care workers, patients and families to raise their concerns and get involved, said Cargill. 

"This is a great start... at the end of the day this is only going to be successful if it changes how patients receive care at the bedside."