Kulig receives grant to study Mennonite attitudes

A University of Lethbridge Faculty of Health Sciences researcher will receive more than $180,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Palliative and End of Life Peer Review Committee within the Population and Public Health Institute) over the next three years to study a little known, but significant population of Canadians and their beliefs about death and dying.

Over the next three years, Dr. Judith Kulig will study beliefs and practices about death and dying among Low German Speaking (LGS) Mennonites in southern Alberta and southern Manitoba.

Nation-wide, there are an estimated 80,000 individuals in this group, but the large concentration of LGS Mennonites in southern Alberta and rural Manitoba allows for a large population to be sampled, as well as relevant information to be gathered from health regions and care providers.

Two of her key goals are to identify any policies and standards regarding how palliative care services are provided for this unique population, and to create best practice guidelines for the palliative care of LGS Mennonites.

"Low German Speaking Mennonites are a religious group with beliefs ranging from conservative to liberal outlooks," Kulig said. "Their unique spiritual beliefs impact their perspectives on health, illness and expectations of care, but little is known about their viewpoints on death and dying."

Kulig says that regardless of what people die from, it is how LGS families and communities respond to the deaths and what their expectations are of palliative care that are not understood. As well, she added that over the next 10 to 15 years, the current population will have aged and will likely be experiencing any number of chronic and terminal conditions which also enhance the need for palliative care, but with adjustments that factor in their particular culture and belief systems.

"Because LGS Mennonites live in rural areas, the demands on the existing health regions are already great and will only increase," Kulig says. "Collecting information about death and dying among LGS Mennonites will allow for the development of policies, care guidelines and understanding among health professionals who care for this population."

The research will be conducted through collaboration with partners in two relevant health regions in southern Alberta (the former Chinook Health and Palliser Health Regions, which now fall under the administrative umbrella of Alberta Health Services) and in southern Manitoba (Central Regional Health Authority) as well as the Mennonite Central Committee. Personal interviews will take place with caregivers, health professionals and members of the LGS community in addition to an analysis of palliative care documents.