“What do I need to know about you as a person?”

I was recently learned about Dr. Harvey Chochinov who is an inspiring Canadian doing pioneering work in palliative care.

It is truly exciting to discover these forerunners who have worked so actively and lived so generously, giving an example to new generations about the kind of humanizing care that is possible.

Dr. Chochinov is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba and Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit, CancerCare Manitoba. He has been doing palliative care research since 1990 and has explored psychiatric dimensions of palliative medicine, such as depression, desire for death, will to live and dignity at the end of life. He has also pioneered “dignity therapy.”

According to this paper of his, “Dignity Therapy, a novel, brief psychotherapy, provides patients with life threatening and life limiting illnesses an opportunity to speak about things that matter most to them. These recorded conversations form the basis of a generativity document, which patients can bequeath to individuals of their choosing. Client Centred Care is a supportive psychotherapeutic approach, in which research nurse/therapists guide patients through discussions focusing on here and now issues.”

In this brief YouTube clip, Dr. Chochinov describes what he calls “The Patient Dignity Question” and the significant impact that this open-ended, personalist question can have for patients and those who care for them:

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“Call me ‘Doctor'”

The other day I heard a story about a women in her nineties who was receiving palliative care.

This woman, it was told, “had never before insisted on ceremony.”

She was not the kind of person who would have had her academic credentials in her Twitter handle.

She did not ordinarily expect anyone to use her professional titles.

However, for the first time in her life, when she was receiving care much later in life, she asked to be called “Doctor.”

She was a not a medical doctor, but she had earned a doctorate in some other subject.

And the reason why she wanted to be called “Doctor” only now was because she intuited that it would make a difference for how she would be treated and the kind of care she would receive.

This is a common and striking phenomenon and reminds me of this story about Dr. Harvey Chochinov:

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