The future of Palliative Care Dr BJ Miller “living fully until our last breath”

Our high standards of palliative care are matched with high standards in our education of palliative care. On 12 May we co-host a special conference at the Royal Society of Medicine which will explore the future of hospice care – “Radical change: a blueprint for the next 50 years of dying.” Our very special guest speaker that day will be palliative expert Dr BJ Miller who has become well known due to his inspirational Ted Talk “What Really Matters Towards the End of Life”.

Miller is a hospice and palliative care specialist (Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of California, San Francisco) who treats patients at the UCSF Medical Center, a local palliative clinic, and the Zen Hospice Project, among others.

During his undergraduate years Miller suffered a near-fatal injury that resulted in the amputation of both legs and one arm and left him in continuing pain. “That night” he said “began my formal relationship with death.” He fought against the role of victim studied art history at Princeton, before studying medicine at UCSF, holding a fellowship at Harvard in Palliative Medicine and amongst many non-academic achievements competed in the 1992 Summer Paralympics, co-founded a tea company and bought a farm.

For Miller, who almost lost his life, palliative care became a much more intense and personal experience rather than a purely medical involvement and he felt strongly that a spiritual aspect was missing from most care. “Healthcare was designed for disease not people.” It was with the Zen Hospice Project that he was able to put these reforms into action.

“I’ve been interested in the [Zen] project since I first learned about it in medical school because it’s a place that’s fuelled by kindness and compassion, rather than invention and resources…It’s allowed me to branch into all the non-medical components that I’m very interested in — arts, spirituality, individuality, community.”

This will be Dr Miller’s first ever public speaking event in Europe. You can see his Ted Talk on St Christopher’s Facebook page.