Dr. Paul Henteleff Take a Bow!

Dr. Paul Henteleff
Saluting a pioneer in palliative care
May 05, 2009

Take a bow, Dr. Paul Henteleff!

On May 5, 2009 the Winnipeg Regional Palliative Care Program presented the first “Dr. Paul Henteleff Lecture in Palliative Care.” The annual lecture has been established in recognition of Dr. Paul Henteleff, whose foundational work has been pivotal in the development of palliative care in Manitoba and influenced the progress and direction of palliative care across Canada.

Paul grew up in Stonewall, a small community just north of Winnipeg. After graduating from medicine in 1956 and taking additional training in Quebec and Saskatoon, Paul worked in general family practice in Winnipeg for about 12 years. During that time he collaborated occasionally with Dr. Jack McDonnel, a prominent geriatrician, and also completed a certificate in Hospital Organization and Management. After further studies in London, England and taking time out to tour Europe with his wife Nel and six young children, Paul returned to Winnipeg to begin work as the Assistant Executive Director of Manitoba Health Services Commission. In that role he helped design the Manitoba Personal Care Home Program. Happily for the palliative care world, he became frustrated with the ‘speed’ of administrative policy work and returned to clinical practice.

At St. Boniface Hospital Paul joined the Geriatric Program and soon volunteered with the then named Terminal Care Unit; within a few months he was named its medical director. Speaking for the thousands of patients and families he cared for as leader of the St. Boniface Hospital Palliative Care Team, and the local, provincial and national palliative care community, we are all very happy he chose that path!

Paul provided a wise, practical, and steady leadership to a team that was renowned for its excellence in integrated comprehensive care. The palliative care team reflected his dedication, determination, and humility. In a memorable letter to the editor titled, “To Die with Dignity: You Take the High Road, I’ll Take the Low Road” (JPC 2:2/1987) in The Journal of Palliative Care, Paul’s humanity and sterling leadership qualities shone. In response to a previous letter in the journal, he stated that dying is not “achieved” but is  “inevitable”, and from his experience with patients in a study, “Is it normal for terminally ill patients to desire death?” (American Journal of Psychiatry, !986), he wrote that he found most persons who are dying were very frail or confused---death was not “their finest hour.” He stressed that we need to see people as they are; “Dignity, in the slogan dying with dignity, is not given by the caregiver; it is a given of each and every human being.” As caregivers we need to be accountable to the dying, even about the possibilities of indignity, “Do not deceive, mistreat, abandon, exploit, or exalt.”

Paul and the palliative care team lived these principles on the ward and spoke of them at educational forums for many years. Paul took particular interest in advocating for the needs of rural Manitobans. He partnered in the formation of the provincial network of caregivers, and his tireless advocacy work paid dividends when initial government funding was granted and palliative care became a core service in Manitoba.

In 1991 Paul retired but he was far from stopping his work. That same year he became the founding president of the Canadian Palliative Care Association. For the next four years he continued his advocacy work at the national level and helped a young organization to grow and lay a firm foundation for future development. In the meantime, Paul continues his leadership at the provincial level where he is currently a board member for Hospice & Palliative Care Manitoba.

Paul Henteleff is a gardener both literally and metaphorically. Over the years he and Nel have produced some exquisitely beautiful gardens, enjoyed by many. He has also planted many seeds in our palliative care community and nurtured wonderful growth in this field.

Dr. Paul Henteleff, a pioneer in hospice and palliative care, please take a bow!!           

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