Adri Nieuwhof, Human Rights Advocate, Switzerland.
In its Prague Charter, the EAPC advocates for the right to palliative care. Palliative care includes access to pain medication.
International associations are advocating for access to palliative care as a human right, based on the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health as laid down in article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Access to pain medication is crucial for palliative care. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, presented a report on abusive practices in healthcare settings to the Human Rights Council last week. States have the obligation to regulate, control and supervise healthcare practices in order to prevent denial of pain treatment, according to Méndez.
On 5 March, I attended a side event to the Human Rights Council on the Méndez report. Méndez explained that when severe pain and suffering due to the denial of pain treatment follows from purely negligent conduct, it constitutes ill treatment. It becomes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when a State fails to take steps to protect the person’s physical and mental integrity while it is or can be aware of the severe suffering caused by the denial of pain treatment. It becomes torture when the State is actively involved in denying pain treatment – for example in State healthcare institutions – and there is the specific intent to inflict severe pain and suffering.
Furthermore, Méndez stressed that: “the denial of pain relief has no economic justification. The medicines are available at low costs and are easy to administer.”
Advocating for palliative care
Special Rapporteur Méndez’s authoritative report can be used to influence government policies on pain relief.
For example, the UN Committee against Torture examines progress reports of States that have signed the Convention against Torture. (The States are listed here.) Non-governmental organisations and National Human Rights Institutions can participate in the reporting process by submitting information to the Committee about the denial of pain treatment when their country’s progress report is scheduled for examination. In general, the Committee will invite the authors of such reports to participate in the session. For the October-November session the State reports of Andorra, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mozambique, Poland, Portugal, and Uzbekistan will be examined. The schedules for the meetings are published on the website of the Human Rights Council.
Furthermore, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture collaborates with national institutions in around 40 countries on the so-called national preventive mechanisms. Palliative care organisations can engage with these national institutions to advocate for access to effective pain treatment.
In addition, individuals who have severely suffered from denial of pain treatment can file an individual complaint. Article 22 of the Convention against Torture allows the Committee to receive and examine applications by individuals claiming to be victims of a violation of the Convention by a State party. An individual can file such a complaint when their country has ratified the Convention against Torture.
Find out more…
Click here to read a previous post by Adri Nieuwhof and Willem Scholten about the UN report.
Have you signed the Prague Charter?
The UN report referred to above gives a similar statement as the Prague Charter. Access to palliative care, including access to essential medicines, is the core request of the Prague Charter: Palliative care is a human right.
Read more about the Prague Charter.
Please support the Prague Charter by signing the petition and urging governments to relieve suffering and recognise palliative care as a human right.