CANADIAN CATHOLIC BIOETHICS INSTITUTE - ANNUAL LECTURE 2010
Ethical and Loving Care of Persons Living with Dementia and Their Families
(Summary by Bridget Campion)
On November 24, 2010, Dr. Bill Sullivan delivered the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute’s Annual Lecture, “Ethical and Loving Care of Persons Living with Dementia and Their Families.” The Founding Director of the CCBI, and currently the Executive Director of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists, as well as, a Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Canadian Association of the Order of Malta, Dr. Sullivan is also a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and Surrey Place Centre. He brought his expertise as both a bioethicist and family physician to his lecture.
Dr. Sullivan introduced the audience to the work of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists, whose most recent meeting focused on the care of persons living with progressive cognitive impairments. He explained the differences between various forms of dementia and used case studies to illustrate the challenges faced by patients and families as they moved through the stages of progressive dementia. Concerns included the importance of truth telling, particularly when the patient is in the earlier stages of dementia, and balancing the need to maintain the patient’s autonomy whenever possible against the need to preserve the safety of the patient and family.
With the numbers of persons suffering from progressive cognitive impairment set to increase as the baby boomers age, the need for ethical, loving care becomes more urgent. This care, according to Dr. Sullivan, must address the needs of the whole person who is not diminished in dignity despite the ravages of the condition. He emphasized the importance of spiritual care as patients and their families grapple with questions of meaning, suffering, and the presence of a loving God in the challenges they face. At the same time, this attention to spirituality can remind families, caregivers, and the larger community of the unequivocal value and dignity of the members of this vulnerable patient population. In fact, Dr. Sullivan spoke about the importance of not simply “warehousing” patients with progressive cognitive impairments; instead, it is essential that facilities and programs are developed to help patients live as fully as possible in their impairment. He noted, for instance, the importance of music, colour, and company as essential parts of the care of this patient population.
In Jesus, Catholic health care practitioners find a model of healing. Not only did Jesus attend to the sick and the dying, he also moved among lepers, demoniacs, and other marginalized members of society. By focusing on patients with progressive cognitive impairment and their families, Dr. Sullivan imitated this healing ministry of Jesus, particularly in his insistence on the transformative power of love as an essential component of truly ethical care.
Bridget Campion, PhD, is a bioethicist, researcher, educator, and staff member of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute.
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