Here's a quiz: The appointment of Dr. Harvey Chochinov to the Canadian Senate marks the fourth appointment of a Jewish Manitoban to that body. Who were the others? (Answer at the end of this article)
In a release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on October 27, it was noted that Dr. Chochinov is a “professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba and Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit,. .. Dr. Chochinov is recognized internationally as a leading scholar, researcher and proponent of palliative care. Dr. Chochinov also holds a Ph.D. in Community Health Sciences. His publications addressing the psychosocial dimensions of palliation have helped define standards of end-of-life care. His work has transformed his field and improved the care and compassion provided to dying patients, in Canada and around the world.”
Harvey Chochinov’s first mention in the pages of The Jewish Post came as a result of his being part of a band known as “Special Blend”, in which he appeared, starting in the 1980s, along with the late Jerry Maslowsky, Jeffrey Dolovich, and Michael Ryczak. On a sad note, Chochinov recently spoke at his life-long friend Jerry Maslow-sky’s celebration of life.
Well known in the community, Chochinov was the special guest speaker at the Jewish Child and Family Services’ AGM in June 2015 where he offered some profound observations on palliative care to the audience. Following are some excerpts from an article describing his talk:
“What would it mean to have a system of health ‘caring’,” Chochinov asked, “rather than ‘care’? Often there’s a paucity of caring.”
When patients “feel caring is present,” he suggested, they “are much more likely to be open to disclosing information” about themselves.
Chochinov noted the “correlation between “the will to live and pain”, explaining that “pain management has profound spiritual implications.”
Referring to how “language influences us”, especially when it comes to attitudes toward the elderly, Chochinov noted the use of what he defined as “elderspeak”: certain words or phrases which individuals dealing with the elderly often use, but which are essentially demeaning. For instance, Chochinov said, workers in institution catering to older patients often “infantilize” elderly patients or residents of homes, using words such as “honey” or “sweetie”. As well, workers typically resort to the first person pronoun, as in “it’s time for our bath”.
As a result, Chochinov said, very often the people who are subjected to “elderspeak” respond angrily, screaming at or grabbing on to the individuals who use that type of language. Their behaviour, however, is not understood as reacting to the language; they are rather thought of as acting out.
“Dignity,” Chochinov noted, “is often compromised at the end of life.” Basic human functions, such as “bathing, dressing, and incontinence”, all of which require assistance from another individual and which “are bound to affect all of us at the end of life”
So, how can we change the attitudes of individuals who deal with those of us nearing the end of life? Chochinov offered a model of something which he labeled “dignity therapy” which, he suggested, is designed to “change the lens of the health care provider”.
What this form of therapy does, Chochinov said, is provide an “opportunity to engage patients in a therapy that will give them dignity.” Patients are offered the opportunity to speak about their lives, to have a “conversation that is recorded and transcribed and that can be given to a loved one.” The value of leaving a “legacy” is of utmost importance to many patients, he noted.
In this way, one can elevate the aspect of a patient’s “personhood”, Chochinov suggested. “What should I know about you as a person that can help me take the best care of you that I can?”
Chochinov's appointment to the Senate follows upon his receiving the Order of Canada in 2014 for what the Governor General's office described as "outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation". At that time Chochinov told this paper that his receiving the Order of Canada was "a profound honour and deeply humbling.”
The other Jewish senators from Manitoba were: Nathan Nurgitz, from 1979-2003, Mira Spivak, 1986-2009; and Richard Kroft, 1988-2004.