Sofia Bettiza, Press Officer, Maruzza Lefebvre Foundation
Modern medicine has prolonged lives. But what about quality of life? In many cases, older people live through their 80s or 90s with multiple diseases and severe pain, a problem that grows every day as populations are ageing worldwide. Very few can say that the last years of their grandparents’ lives were lived happily. In and out of a hospital, connected to scary tubes, weakened by over-treatment. Is that how you wish to reach old age? Hardly.
Unfortunately, the European health system does not meet the needs of older patients. That is precisely why tomorrow (25 September), the Maruzza Lefebvre Foundation will unveil a manifesto, developed in cooperation with EAPC Onlus and EUGMS (European Union Geriatric Medicine Society) at the European Parliament. It calls for an EU strategy on geriatric palliative care, with the ultimate objectives of creating legislation and of making it a human right.
Silvia Lefebvre, President of the Foundation, saw her sister Maruzza dying from cancer in her early forties. One of her last wishes was to help people die with more dignity, surrounded by their loved ones, in their own homes if they wish. Soon after the foundation was born, its goal being to promote palliative care for the most fragile patients: children and older people. And they came a long way: from Maruzza’s last wish to a round-table meeting at the European Parliament.
Dialogue between geriatricians and palliative care experts at the EU level is an absolute novelty. The two disciplines are wary of each other, and are not used to cooperating. However as the world ages, changing this lack of communication becomes more urgent than ever. By 2050, one out of four Europeans will be 65 years or older and 10 per cent will be 80+; in Italy and Spain, even one third will be at least 65.
Geriatricians and palliative care experts have actually much in common: they seek to optimise care for older adults with advanced illnesses, and see the patient and his loved ones as a unit requiring thoughtful, integrated care, rather than perceiving the patient merely as a cluster of organs and conditions.
The Vice President of the European Parliament, Gianni Pittella, is hosting the event at the Parliament; John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, will intervene. Specialists as well as policy makers are flying in from other countries to attend: this shows that many are finally grasping the urgency of the issue. However, this is only the first step towards EU legislation on palliative care. Although the UK leads the world in quality of dying, many developed nations like Italy, Spain and Denmark lag a long way behind. Europe should keep in mind that although the outcome of a disease might be unchangeable, the conditions are not.
Find out more…
Click here to find out more about palliative care and older people. The manifesto to promote a European action plan on palliative care and geriatrics will be available on the EAPC website in the next few days.