A Time to Heal: The McGill International Palliative Care Congress Returns – by Justin J Sanders

Categories: Care, Education, and Leadership.

The 23rd McGill International Palliative Care Congress will be held on October 18-20 at the Palais de Congrès in Montreal, Quebec, 2 years after the cancellation of the 2020 Congress due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This represents a timely and welcome return to a long-standing and beloved event on the calendar of palliative care clinicians and advocates from around the world.

I asked Dr. Bernard Lapointe, former chair and current co-chair of the international congress, about a moment from the meeting that captured its unique content and spirit. He mentioned the presentation from the 2018 Congress by students from the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec and chefs from La Maison de Gardanne, a palliative care residence in the south of France, who collaborated to develop a series of recipes and adaptations to preserve the pleasure of eating through the treatments and progression of serious illnesses.

Dr. Lapointe recalled with excitement the innovative example of using a foam, a food preparation technique from molecular gastronomy, to capture the essential taste of a beloved food for a patient with end-stage motor neurone disease who was unable to swallow. It reminded me of the many ways in which we are nourished as humans, only of which has to do with calories.

Palliative care, in principal and practice, operates from the radical notion that those affected by serious illness can experience healing across their illness trajectory and up until the end of life. The skills that palliative care clinicians – all members of the interdisciplinary team – use to manage difficult symptoms and promote communication operate in service of this idea. As a result, we bear witness to so much more than suffering – notably, the making of meaning in the face of existential crisis, the repair and nurturing of relationships, and even the joy of living.

The McGill International Palliative Care Congress, founded by Balfour Mount and hosted in Montréal every other year since 1976, has become a cherished international meeting for its focus on the joys of living and its humanistic attention to the work of caring for the seriously ill and dying. It reflected Cicely Saunders’ commitment to the idea that the value of knowledge is only realized when shared, as well as Balfour Mount’s vision for humanistic and whole person care.

Indeed, the meeting is known for its unique blend of clinical research, inter-professionalism, social science, and the arts and their orientation to improving the quality of life for all those affected by serious illness – patients and those that care for them.

The International Seminar on Care of the Terminally Ill hosted 397 international participants over three days in November in 1976, among them key leaders in the hospice movement. In 2018, over 1600 delegates from more than 65 countries attended 4 days of programming. The pandemic forced cancellation in 2020. Over two years into a global pandemic, the Congress is adapting to a new world in a way that honors its history.

This includes a program that emphasizes reflection through the arts, scientific advancement and collaboration through presentation of the newest international research, clinical mastery, and community engagement. With fora for nurses, pharmacists, pediatric palliative care specialists, and researchers, the Congress program attends to the multiple dimensions of our work, analogous to the multiple dimensions of suffering to which we attend daily.

The 2022 McGill International Palliative Care Congress will convene approximately 700 in person delegates and as many virtual participants. In an uncertain time characterized by emergent variants, vaccine inequities, travel restrictions, and geopolitical conflict, the Congress Executive Committee felt that such a hybrid format will best meet the existing and evolving needs while continuing to foster international collaboration and collective nourishment and healing.

This nourishment and healing has never been more important. As patients draw meaning from the important relationships in their lives, so do clinicians and advocates draw from their professional relationships to support meaning in their work. In the wake of the extraordinary loss of the last two years – of colleagues, friends, family members, and patients – the Congress will offer opportunities to nurture these relationships, to grieve, to move through this grief toward healing, and to look forward together to the future.

In his collection of poems, Les îles d’or, Frédéric Mistral wrote “Les arbres aux racines profondes sont ceux qui montent haut” – “The trees with deep roots are those that grow tall.” The McGill International Palliative Care Congress will be a place to strengthen and deepen the roots of the field and its practitioners. Together, we will grow tall for the sake of those who need us. We look forward to seeing you in October.


Please sign up for the Congress mailing list here: bit.ly/3Jf7IAd


Follow us on social media here:

Twitter : CareMcGill

Instagram: PalliativeCareMcGill

Facebook: palliativecaremcgill


Justin J Sanders is the Kappy and Eric M. Flanders Chair of Palliative Care, McGill University.

Dr Justin Sanders



The McGill International Congress on Palliative Care: Oct 18-22, 2022. 
McGill University’s International Congress on Palliative Care is the longest running congress for
this field. Founded in 1976 by Dr. Balfour Mount and his colleagues, it is now organized and
hosted biennially by Palliative Care McGill. Over 1,500 delegates, from more than 65 countries
participate in making this one of the most interdisciplinary palliative care congresses. Every
other year physicians, researchers, nurses, psychologists, social workers, pharmacists, music
therapists, art therapists, physical therapists and volunteers gather from around the globe to learn
from and with each other for the betterment of palliative care. Please join us in celebrating and
enriching palliative care around the world. To receive the latest info, join our new mailing list.                                                                                      (We are rebuilding from scratch so previous subscribers still need to sign up!)

Le congrès international de McGill sur les soins palliatifs : Du 18 au 22 octobre 2022.
Le Congrès international sur les soins palliatifs de l’Université McGill est le congrès le plus
ancien dans ce domaine. Fondé en 1976 par le Dr Balfour Mount et ses collègues, il est
maintenant organisé et accueilli tous les deux ans par Palliative Care McGill. Plus de 1 500
délégués de plus de 65 pays participent à ce qui en fait l’un des congrès de soins palliatifs les
plus interdisciplinaires. Tous les deux ans, des médecins, des chercheurs, des infirmières, des
psychologues, des travailleurs sociaux, des pharmaciens, des musicothérapeutes, des art-
thérapeutes, des physiothérapeutes et des bénévoles du monde entier se réunissent pour
apprendre les uns des autres et collaborer à l’amélioration des soins palliatifs. Rejoignez-nous
pour célébrer et enrichir les soins palliatifs dans le monde entier. Pour recevoir les dernières
informations, rejoignez notre toute nouvelle liste de diffusion. (Nous repartons de zéro, les
anciens abonnés doivent donc continuer à s’inscrire).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *