This article was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on February 24, 2015.
Dr Harvey Max Chochinov holds the Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care.
A few days after the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the prohibition against doctor-assisted suicide, I received a note from a wonderful colleague of mine saying that her closest friend’s 53-year-old son had just died of spinal cancer. Two weeks before his death, he had visited his doctor, experiencing “terrible pain.” Despite his anguish, his physician refused to give him morphine, claiming that because he was a smoker he was “more likely to become addicted.”
While this seems unfathomable, even grotesque, ignorance and lack of skill in attending to the needs of dying patients are still tragically common in Canada.
Despite the impressive strides that palliative care has taken in areas such as pain and symptom management, and sensitivities to the psychosocial, existential and spiritual challenges facing dying patients and their families, at their time of licensure, physicians have been taught less about pain management than those graduating from veterinary medicine. Most MDs have knowledge deficiencies that can significantly impair their ability to manage cancer pain.