The Alberta government officially announced yesterday that they would be spending $6 million on two initiatives designed to improve palliative care in the province.
The first initiative is $5 million in funding to the Covenant Health Palliative Institute to “increase access to palliative and end-of-life services and promote advance care planning”.
This initiative was originally announced in the 2020–2021 budget released this past February:
In 2020-21, $5 million is allocated for palliative and end-of-life care to increase education for health care providers, access to, and awareness of palliative and end-of-life care to better support Albertans and their caregivers and families in accessing appropriate and timely end-of-life care“Health Business Plan 2020–23”. Ministry Business Plans: A Plan for Jobs and the Economy. p. 86
The second initiative will be $1 million in funding to the Alberta Hospice Palliative Care Association to “establish in-person and online support groups, develop Alberta’s first telephone grief support line, and expand workshops on palliative care”.
Also announced yesterday was the plan to eliminate co-payments on end-of-life drugs. Prior to this announcement, only end-of-life drugs used in the hospital were covered by the province.
If the same drugs were used at home or in a hospice, patients would be required to pay a portion of the drugs’ cost. Even though they’d be dying anyhow. This amounted to about 2,700 people a year.
This is a good thing. People should have the freedom to choose where and how they die, and making one method more expensive limits that freedom.
These initiatives are part of a broader plan to spend $20 million on palliative care before the next provincial election. Dan Williams, the MLA for Peace River, has been appointed to consult with stakeholders and the general public on how to allocated the remaining $14 million.
Williams’s appointment is interesting given that he was the one who introduced Bill 207 last November.
Also known as the Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act, the bill would’ve allowed health care providers to refuse offering treatment if such treatment infringed on their “conscientious beliefs”.
The proposed bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills. When Mike Ellis, the chair of the committee, reported back to the Legislative Assembly later in the month, he indicated that the committee recommended not proceeding with the bill.
A week later, Williams rose in the assembly to oppose the committee’s recommendation. As part of that opposition, he quoted part of a letter from a university student:
I never want to be told or forced to advise someone to [pursue]
Euthanasia. In that case, the system would not be granting me freedom of conscience and belief. The system would be forcing me to do something I do not believe in and that is contradicting to what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states. I was hungry to have the right of freedom and conscience rights and the idea of not having it is deeply [troubling to me].
And while the NDP and the media framed Bill 207 around abortion care, it seemed to have been lost that it could’ve also affected end-of-life care.
And now the person who wanted to limit access to some aspects of palliative care in Alberta will be responsible for determining how funding is spent on palliative care, potentially including end-of-life care.