Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, end-of-life care champion, named to Canadian Medical Hall of Fame
An interest in end-of-life care came gradually for Harvey Max Chochinov, OC, MD, PhD, FRCPC, FRSC — widely considered one of the world’s foremost experts and leading researchers on psychosocial care for patients with life-limiting or life-ending conditions.
Early in his career, merging his background in Psychiatry with Palliative Medicine, he branched into a research program in an area that had so-far been relatively overlooked.
“We were trying to understand emotional challenges facing patients nearing end-of-life such as depression, hopelessness and desire for death. At the time, relatively little was known about these issues amongst people who were nearing end-of-life,” he says.
“We were amongst the first research group to try to examine these matters from an empirical vantage point. That work segued into a fairly large program of research in the area of dying with dignity and what the concept of ‘dignity’ means to patients who are approximating end-of-life.”
The answer: it varies.
Defining “dying with dignity”
Dr. Chochinov and his colleagues were responsible for helping to illuminate a variety of issues relating to how dying patients conceptualize dignity as they approach end-of-life (ranging from meeting physical needs, to spiritual and psychosocial aspects of wellness). They also uncovered other factors that might impinge or uphold peoples’ sense of dignity, and supportive interventions for patients in their final days.
“That body of research — and the interest that it generated nationally and internationally — led our group and others to look at this area and how to integrate those aspects of palliation into end-of-life care.”
Unexpected honours and accolades
Dr. Chochinov is currently a distinguished professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba and senior scientist at the Research Institute of Oncology and Hematology, CancerCare Manitoba. His career has been marked by many accolades, including recognition of his expertise by the Government of Canada.
“A number of years ago, before the passing of legislation on medical assistance in dying, I was asked to chair an external panel for the federal government that was doing a very thorough environmental scan of end-of-life policies and practices around the world,” he shares.
He is also particularly proud of the project he co-founded — the Canada Virtual Hospice — which he chaired from 2001-2015.
“That site has grown in leaps and bounds. It has become the world’s largest online repository of resources in support of patients, families and health care providers on issues pertaining to palliative care and bereavement.”
Yet, despite his many professional contributions to improving and expanding models of end-of-life care, he was taken aback by this latest honour.
“[Being named an inductee of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame] certainly wasn’t something I expected. This honour is really quite overwhelming and not something I anticipated would happen over the course of my career.”
Dr. Chochinov will be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame on April 17 at the 2020 Induction Ceremony in Vancouver, B.C.