Katherine Pettus, Advocacy Officer, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care
On July 7, the Eighth United Nations Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA), for the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons, selected ‘long term and palliative care’ as one of two focus questions for its 2018 session (OEWG9), the exact date of which is yet to be determined. The other question OEWG9 will consider is ‘autonomy and independence’. The fact that member states will discuss older persons’ rights to long term and palliative care for several days is unprecedented in the history of the United Nations (UN).
The UN General Assembly created OEWGA on Ageing in December 2010 to consider the existing international framework on human rights of older persons, violations and gaps in the enjoyment of those rights, and whether to address them through a binding instrument such as a new convention.
The Organization of American States set a great example to the other regions of the world by adopting the Inter American Convention on the Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, which includes robust language on palliative care.
Palliative care advocates have been attending and participating in regular sessions of the OEWGA since it began, to ensure that the topic is included in the deliberations about a possible binding convention on the rights of older persons. Palliative care advocates have pointed out that problem of lack of access to palliative care is acute throughout the world and, as the population ages, it will be essential to develop services in the community that are accessible to older persons and their families. This requires political will, funding and, most of all, the advocacy to support making palliative care a policy priority. In July last year, the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) and the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA) co-sponsored a side event that highlighted the topic as part of an awareness building process.
National palliative care organisations will be the key actors in preparations for 2018, as they are well positioned to collaborate with their governments to identify gaps and to suggest policy guidelines for their own countries. They will be able to point to best practices and challenges that can be overcome through effective partnerships. Colleagues in national associations can also request to be included on national delegations to OEWG9. This will gives their UN mission an edge, with expert inside advice. Global and regional organisations can provide technical support and guidance to their national counterparts.
It will also be important to have strong, accredited civil society representation from non-palliative care organisations (representing other medical specialties for instance), as well as older persons and/or family members who have benefited from palliative care. The more informed a ministry and mission is, the more likely they are to participate in next year’s discussions.
The anticipated outcome of this yearlong preparatory process is informed policymakers! If we do our job well, political leaders and citizens in all UN member states will learn about the need to develop human rights-based policies to ensure the provision of long term and palliative care services for their ageing populations. They will be able to report on their plans and progress to other UN member states, and to civil society organisations, at OEWG9.
At this point, UN member states are nowhere near agreement on the need for a binding international convention on the rights of older persons, similar to that protecting the rights of women, children, indigenous people, and people with disabilities. Such a binding convention should, like the Inter-American Convention, include a right to palliative care. The global, regional, and national palliative care community now has the opportunity to make our case that UN member states need to protect older persons’ rights to palliative care by developing the appropriate universal standards to be included in a convention.
A full list of Resources and Articles: Books, Articles, Statements, and Reports on Rights of Older Persons and Palliative Care is available in the Resources section of the IAHPC website.
To find out more . . .
If your organisation or association is interested in learning about IAHPC advocacy, please email Katherine Pettus, IAHPC Advocacy Officer.
Dr Katherine Pettus writes regularly for the Advocacy and Policy page published each month in the IAHPC online newsletter. She has also contributed several posts to the EAPC Blog, which you can find in the Advocacy and Policy category.