Posts Tagged ‘Balfour Mount’

Today is March 8th, International Women’s Day. So it seems appropriate to share this article about Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of St. Christopher’s House in London and a pioneer in the modern hospice movement. Many people involved in hospice palliative care work in Canada and elsewhere were inspired by her work and her life. Dr. Balfour Mount (the Montreal physician who established the first palliative care unit and coined the term palliative care) and Dr. John Seely (a champion of palliative care in Ottawa and friend and colleague of Dr. Mount) both visited Cicely Saunders in London and saw first hand the importance of her work.

So today, I am grateful for Dame Cicely Saunders and the many many women who came before us, who paged the way for our work today, and shone a light on the possibilities of the future.



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A recent article in the Toronto Star suggests that we should change the name of palliative care – perhaps to supportive care – in order to encourage people to seek out care early on in their illness. I’ve seen similar articles in the US as well, arguing that palliative care and hospice care scare people off – presumably because of their association with death.

As an historian and long-time hospice volunteer, I think we should celebrate the contribution that Canadians have made to end of life care. That includes celebrating Dr. Balfour Mount, the pioneering Montreal physician who coined the term palliative care back in the 1975. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in Canada and I’m happy to tell people about it.

What do you think?



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Recently I was in the kitchen at hospice, feeding an elderly resident her lunch. Between bites of vegetable casserole and caprese salad, she shared a wish. “I would love to know more about the origins of hospice care and of this hospice in particular. But I’m not able to read any more so I don’t know how that could happen.”

I paused for a minute before offering. “I could tell you about that history.”

And so for the next fifteen minutes or so, in between bites and sips, I recounted the history of hospice care, from the Crusades to Cicely Saunders, Balfour Mount, and the other pioneers of the modern hospice movement. I have written and spoken of this history, but never without notes, and I was amazed at how easily the details came to me. She listened with rapt attention, nodding briefly when I mentioned Balfour Mount, the Montreal physician who coined the term palliative care. I finished with the history of our own hospice, from its earliest days to opening of the residence in 2001.

“That’s wonderful,” she said, when I had finished. “How would you say these people would define the purpose of palliative care?”

“To enable people to live and enjoy their lives to the greatest extent possible in the time that remains to them,” I said.

“I’d say that’s what hospice is doing for me,” she said.

“I think so too,” I said.

And as I pushed her back to her room, I thought to myself, ‘this is why I volunteer in hospice care.’

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"I write not because I am courageous but because I am afraid. I discover my courage in the writing, and am no longer silenced by fear." -Kerry Beth Neville

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