Senator Sharon Carstairs has thrown in the towel. The former Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister with Special Responsibility for Palliative Care, she has been a tireless advocate for palliative/end-of-life care for all Canadians for over 16 years but she can no longer see the light at the end of a dark and narrow health care tunnel.

With still no firm budget or national strategy for palliative care or for the care of the countless frail elderly trapped in an ageist care system, she is retiring this fall.

“The passion is still with me, but I’m tired,” says the former leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party. “You can only do this so long. I give speeches, speeches, speeches … and we continue to do badly. I will be 69 in April. I’m burnt out.”

The statistics are depressingly familiar:

  • 65 and over is Canada’s fastest-growing age group, expected to hit 23 per cent of the population by 2031
  • The number of people in their eighties is increasing even faster, with each costing the system an average of $18,000 a year
  • Among its 68,000 doctors, Canada has fewer than 300 who specialize in geriatrics or palliative care

Senator Carstairs is desperately worried about Canada’s millions of family caregivers who continue to provide an estimated $25 billion a year of unpaid care, with still no national caregiver strategy, no formal training or economic support.

She has tabled 3 reports on palliative care in the Senate since 2000. In February of this year she tabled a Private Members motion calling on the Government of Canada to develop a National Brain Strategy.

“Honourable senators, evidence suggests that 11 million Canadians are living with a brain condition. Brain conditions include developmental, neurological, those things caused by injuries, which amount to about 5.5 million Canadians. Another 5.5 million Canadians suffer from psychiatric disorders. There are over 1,000 of these diseases, conditions and injuries affecting the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, brain tumours, autism, schizophrenia, spinal cord injuries, and brain stem injuries, these are just a few of the conditions that affect the health, social and economic well-being of Canadians……We know that the burden of brain conditions is not lessening. It is increasing at alarming rates. It is estimated that within the next 20 years, brain disorders will become the leading cause of death and disability in Canada. The longer we wait, the more difficult it is for those who suffer from a brain condition and the longer before we can implement policy decisions and practices that can alleviate the burden for those with the disorders and their families.”

I have known Senator Carstairs since I began working in the aging and long term care field in the mid 1990’s. We frequently crossed paths at conferences or airplanes. She always had time to listen and talk. She is a compassionate, caring Canadian…in my mind the best example of what a politician should be. She will be greatly missed.

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