The great 13th century poet Rumi tells us sometimes a door opens and a human being becomes a way for grace to come through. I like to think that palliative care is a new door opening in the world of modern medicine, allowing healthcare professionals to be a way for grace and compassion, as well as knowledge to come through.
Palliative care is about relieving suffering. It is about relieving suffering not only physical suffering, but emotional, psychological and spiritual suffering as well. It is a holistic approach to caring for a person at any stage of an acute or chronic illness, from day of diagnosis through the end of life. Palliative care is not synonymous with end of life care as many people think. And it is not the same as hospice care. Hospice care in our country is about end of life. And palliative care is the philosophy at the foundation of hospice. Palliative care does not require a terminal diagnosis. I can function as a safety net of support for people with chronic illness, or anyone young or old who is undergoing curative treatment for a disease like cancer or heart disease or chronic lung or kidney disease. Palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach to caring for a patient and also for their loved ones. It is delivered by a team of healthcare professionals that includes doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains. Palliative care is about providing the best possible quality of life for someone who is seriously ill. By looking at the big picture of who that person is, and what is causing their particular suffering, acknowledging that an individual’s life circumstances affect how they deal with an illness. The millions of people who will be aging in the next 30 years are going to demand that healthcare be seen not as an industry, but as a philosophy of care that understands that suffering must be addressed in the broadest sense. In order to do this, all healthcare professionals must be trained in palliative care, trained to access their hearts and their compassion as well as their expertise. We must acknowledge as Doctor Diane Meier of the Center to Advance Palliative Care has emphasized, that healing is about the power of human relationship and connection. And this is why palliative care is essential to healthcare in the 21st century.