Palliative Care at the United Nations – a fruitful meeting

Katherine Irene Pettus, PhD, Advocacy Officer, International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care (IAHPC).

Katherine Irene Pettus

I have been reporting on the EAPC Blog for the past few years about attending the United Nations Open Ended Working Group on Ageing and advocating for palliative care. This year, that advocacy bore fruit, with long-term and palliative care being on the agenda for an entire day, July 25!

IAHPC and the Government of Canada held parallel side events on July 24, so our work and challenges had plenty of high-level coverage. See the IAHPC flyer and presentations here. I gave a statement for IAHPC on the floor during one of the interactive section, where member states and expert panellists emphasized the enormous unmet need for palliative care and their need for help to develop the services. I seized the moment to assure them that IAHPC can help them begin to establish a framework in collaboration with national and regional partners such as European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC), Latin American Association for Palliative Care (ALCP), African Palliative Care Association (APCA), and Asia Pacific Hospice Network (APHN).

Flyer for the United Nations Open-ended Working Group on Ageing IAHPC side event

Of course, stipulating a right in a legally binding convention and ratifying it doesn’t magically result in countries implementing policies to protect, respect and fulfil that right. It does, however, provide scaffolding for advocacy and political organising to promote realisation of the right in practice. A convention that stipulates older persons’ right to palliative care obliges its adherents to report, and allows civil society organisations (palliative care associations, associations of persons with disabilities, faith-based organisations, individuals, etc.) to comment on performance and hold states accountable for provision or lack thereof. See this Handbook for more information.

This year, the Working Group discussed two questions identified at last year’s meeting: older persons’ ability to access long-term and palliative care, and their rights to autonomy and independence. It heard evidence on normative gaps and accomplishments from UN member states, civil society organisations (such as IAHPC), and expert panellists. The sessions are recorded and available on UN Web TV here.

IAHPC wishes to curate the statements of non-governmental organisations and member states on palliative care on our website Advocacy Page and to collect the most pertinent for a special journal volume. Several statements, including from Cambodia and the American Bar Association, and many policy briefs from our joint webinar course with World Health Organization (WHO), are already posted.

The good news (always welcome!) is that any future convention on the rights of older persons will include the rights to palliative care and pain medicines, as does the Inter-American Convention on the Rights of Older Persons (Article 12).

Another highlight for me was the appearance of Marvin Mutch and Sandra Fish, fellow board members of Humane (Prison Hospice Project). Humane works at San Quentin Prison in California to teach inmates to care for their dying “cellies”. I also am part of the EAPC Task Force on Palliative Care for Prisoners, which will report at the EAPC World Congress in Berlin next year.

Links and resources


Join us at the 16TH EAPC World Congress in Berlin 23 to 25 May 2019  – #EAPC2019 Submit your abstract here.

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