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Friday, 14 August 2015

The "Imagine" Reality Check: Health Care Infrastructure, Part 4: Hospice

   The hospice, a specialized home for those with a terminal illness and their families, is a relatively new part of Western health care infrastructure.  The first hospice was established in 1967 in London, England, but it built itself upon the foundations outlined in my last three posts. 
   Without hospitals, the idea of a hospice as a specialized institution would not have arisen.  The founder of the first hospice and the hospice movement itself, Dame Cicely Saunders, began her medical training during World War II.  She trained to become a Red Cross war nurse at, notably, the Nightingale Training School!  She subsequently added to her education, becoming a medical doctor in 1957.
   Ms. Saunders, according to the Encyclopedia of world biography, was “[a] devout Christian.” When planning the concept of a hospice, she “incorporated opportunities for spiritual reflection into her plan, including a chapel, staff theologians, and prayer time. Yet she remained adamant that religion not be forced on anyone” [1].  She believed that the atmosphere of well-lit and home-like rooms would bring comfort to patients and their families.  More consistent pain control and other palliative treatments would not try to artificially extend life but make the end more bearable.  Due in part to Saunders’ research, palliative care has become a specialized area of medicine.
   Hospice care, according to Saunders’ model is diametrically opposed to physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia since her beliefs were based on the sanctity of human life and the sovereignty of God over one’s lifespan.  It is worth noting that despite its faith-filled beginnings, not all hospice care today continues in that life-affirming tradition [2]. 

[1] Encyclopedia of World Biography | 2005  : Saunders, Cicely.

[2] American hospice pioneer Florence Wald was open to euthanasia, and that has trickled down to some US hospices, according to Kelleigh Nelson’s March 6, 2013 article “Killing us Softly” found at freedomoutpost.com 

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