Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov
BY JOEL SCHLESINGER
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012
No one would question the common sense
of treating patients with kindness and dignity.
But the question of just how compassion can
enhance experience in the health-care system
has been difficult to answer.
That is until Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, the
only Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care
and one of the world's top experts in palliative
care, started to answer the question almost 20
"We began looking at psychological issues
and the experiential landscape of end-of-life,"
says the Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry
at University of Manitoba's Faculty of
His team's research shone a light on the
need for a holistic approach to health care that
addresses the physical, psychological, spiritual
and existential needs of patients. His findings
have changed the way the medical community
cares for patients who are dying, while also
enhancing the quality of care for all patients.
The Canadian Medical Association recognized
his achievements this year by bestowing its
highest honour, the F.N.G. Starr Award.
"We all ascribe to the idea that we ought
to be providing patients and their families
care that is mindful of preserving dignity,"
says Chochinov, Director of the Manitoba
Palliative Care Research Unit with CancerCare
Manitoba. "Our research focused an empirical
lens on this issue, examining exactly what it
means to patients and how it might be achieved
within our system of health care."
Thanks to his research, dignity has become a
central part of palliative care. His research team
developed "Dignity Therapy," a psychological
intervention for patients facing the end of their
lives that allows them to discuss their thoughts
about the life they've lived. This approach has
been studied and adapted by many palliative
care programs around the world. "It allows
patients to leave a legacy, while enhancing their
own quality of life and providing comfort for
those left to grieve their passing."
Perhaps more than any accomplishment,
Chochinov says he hopes his work has
provided evidence that compassion and respect
are foundational to quality medical care. And
when patients are nearing the end, Chochinov
reminds us that, "while dying is inevitable,
dying poorly ought not to be."
Back to "Leading the way"
Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.
Read the November / December 2012 issue of Wave