Nov. 13, 2020
By JANICE ARNOLD
MONTREAL—“I don’t beat around the bush. I can’t use all these euphemisms. In my book, people don’t pass away, they die.”
That memorable quote from Kappy Flanders summed up her unflinching attitude toward death. People retreat into vague terms because of fear, she believed, and avoidance of reality has meant that too many endure their final days without proper care.
Flanders, who died in June at age 81, devoted her last three decades as a volunteer to the improvement of palliative care, urging greater access and quality and, equally, dispelling misconceptions about what it is.
She endowed an academic chair in palliative medicine at McGill University in 1994, the first of its kind in North America, and was instrumental in the creation of the grassroots Council on Palliative Care in Montreal, a public education and advocacy group. She went on national initiatives.
Flanders cringed at “medical aid in dying,” insisting on calling it euthanasia. If there was adequate end-of-life care, relieving physical and psychic pain, doctors would not have to be put in the position of terminating lives, she contended.
The motivation for her activism was watching her husband Eric suffer for 18 months with the lung cancer that would kill him in 1991 in his 50s. Medical treatment was intense, but no professional support to ease the course of his illness was known to her in Montreal.
When her mother, who lived in Israel, died of cancer a couple of years later there, Flanders was impressed by the hospice approach that allowed her to die comfortably and peacefully.
In 2000, Flanders established the Eric M. Flanders Endowment Fund in Palliative Medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) to strengthen its nascent training in palliative care.
Flanders, who grew up in a Zionist family in London, England, remembered meeting David Ben-Gurion as a child. Her husband was a founder of the Canadian Associates of BGU in 1973 and its first president.
Two decades on, BGU has fulfilled Flanders’s vision. In October, it inaugurated the Kappy and Eric Flanders National Palliative Care Resource Centre, described as the first of its kind in Israel. It brings under one roof multidisciplinary academic education, practical training and research, as well as play an advocacy role.
Dr. Pesach Shvartzman, director of the palliative unit at Soroka Medical Centre and chair of the health ministry’s committee to establish national standards in palliative care, is the centre’s director.
“We believe this centre will help make palliative care much more accessible throughout Israel, just as Kappy would have wanted,” he said.
The centre, in whose development Flanders took a keen interest up to her death, was made possible with a significant donation from the Prosserman family of Toronto. Ron Prosserman said at the virtual dedication, that it was his longtime friend, Dr. Vivian Rakoff, former head of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, who died earlier in the month, who suggested the gift.
Flanders’s three daughters, Susan, Judith and Elle, said the centre is a fitting tribute to their mother’s work from which she never flagged.
“When she believed something should happen, she made it happen,” said Susan of her mother, who inducted into the Order of Canada in 2015.
In addition to Shvartzman, the centre’s founding members are Drs. Yoram Singer and Mark Clarfield, both originally from Canada, and Tali Samson. The centre also has an international advisory board that includes Dr. Bernard Lapointe, chief of palliative care at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and until recently, holder of the Flanders chair in palliative medicine at McGill.
“Kappy was a connector, bringing together volunteers, professionals, intellectuals, artists and leaders, all around the cause of quality end-of-life care,” said Lapointe, who called her a mentor.
Flanders died – not passed away – the way she wanted for herself, and everyone: at home, surrounded by her family.