10/20/2010, 00.00
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Japan, Catholic commitment to pastoral care of terminally ill

The Garashi Hospital is a Catholic "hospice", a structure that helps the sick in the last days of life. Celebrating the first five years of activities, the director, Fr. Matsumoto, speaks of caring for the heart and soul of those who are leaving, with particular attention to the family.

Osaka (AsiaNews / Cbcj) - Caring for body and spirit, "continuing pastoral mission, especially for those people who are approaching death." This is the main purpose of the network of Catholic "hospices", homes for the terminally ill who can not be cured in hospital, explained by Fr. Nobuyoshi Matsumoto, who heads the Garashi hospice, at a meeting convened to celebrate 5 years of the institute.

Throughout Japan there are only 195 "palliative care units, commonly known as" hospices".  They have only 3,839 beds, a very low number when one considers that one third of total deaths in Japan is caused by terminal illnesses like cancer. In the Archdiocese of Osaka, where Fr. Matsumoto works, there are 2 Catholic "hospices": the Garashi and St. Marys. The first was opened in April 2005, and in its first 5 years has welcomed more than 400 people.

To the people gathered, mostly healthcare workers and relatives of former patients now deceased, the priest said, "Why are there not so many hospices in Japan? Aren't they needed? Yes, they are needed. The primary role of hospitals is to treat patients. So, when patients get cancer, hospitals certainly give treatments. However, there are definitely cases and phases which no treatment is available to cure cancer. In those cases, hospitals have a choice either to continue treatments, even though they have little effect, or to ask patients to move to other places".

"The hospice - continues the priest - accepts cancer patients under favorable conditions. Hospice is cognate with hotel and host, two expressions that derive from the same word meaning to give someone a hearty welcome. In a certain sense, a hospice is a hotel with specialists, such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists and physiotherapists, and it aims to provide a place where patients can spend the last days of their lives in peace with family members".

The Garashi emphasizes Fr. Matsumoto, "has an average bed occupancy of 90%. We need more places like this, so we can try to help patients maintain their normal life: we accompany them to their home, the movies, to eat out and even tea houses. We push them to continue to care for their pets to do those activities that were part of everyday life”.

The most important feature of the hospice, he concludes, "is the "care of heart and sprit", called pastoral care, which the hospital puts emphasis on. Therefore, medical staffs try to be attentive to patients and their families from the first day in the hospice. People who lost loved ones are welcomed anytime to a monthly meeting, "Yurinokai", which are held in the hospice".

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