Katherine Pettus, Advocacy Officer, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, (IAHPC), reports on the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing held at the United Nations, New York, on July 29-August 1.
By 2025, more than 20% of Europeans will be 65 or over. The demographic reality of ageing populations poses intense social, economic, clinical, and bioethical challenges for European societies. Ageing will affect all European Union countries in most policy domains and presents multiple opportunities for cross-cutting advocacy and civil society collaboration.
I attended the 5th session of the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA) at the United Nations in New York, for IAHPC. Ours was the only civil society organisation (out of many) to make any statement about palliative care and access to medicines in the plenary sessions. Colombia was the only Member State that mentioned the issues. My colleague Dr Stephen Connor of the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA), and I presented about our respective organisations at a well-attended side event. It was such a privilege to meet and collaborate with passionate members of this established global movement to support ageing populations.
The bioethical stakes of supporting the campaign for the rights of older people are high: first, it focuses on high levels of abuse and neglect of the elderly, and second, by promoting palliative care, it can address the prospect of legalised euthanasia. Without appropriate education, states may conclude that universal palliative care is too expensive and may decide not to subsidise the ’unproductive’ elderly. This elephant in the room will not be ignored in times of economic scarcity if politicians persuade voters that elderly citizens are a drain on the public purse. Global, regional, national and local palliative care movements must continue to claim palliative care as a human right. Care of elders and assurance of a dignified death is an ethical imperative of decent societies in the 21st century.
Considerable discussion at the OEWGA focused on whether a new international convention is needed to protect the rights of older people, similar to those on the rights of children, women, migrants, people with disabilities, etc. The EU as a bloc, the only outlier being Slovenia, does not favour a new convention. With Canada, Japan and US, the EU claims that existing national and international human rights laws and mechanisms are sufficient but must be implemented. In contrast, almost all the countries in the global south, led by Latin America, member states civil society, favour a binding legal instrument. They argue that since existing human rights conventions fail to explicitly identify older people as ‘vulnerable populations’, they simply fall through the treaty cracks.
The EU supports the mandate of the newly appointed Independent Expert on Ageing (IE), Dr Rosa Kornfield Matte of Chile, who will report back to the Human Rights Council on the global state of the rights of ageing populations.
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