Palliative Care as a Human Right at the UN

Categories: Leadership.

As many of you already know, on March 4th, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva to present his landmark new report focusing on severe abuses in health care settings that amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and in some cases – torture. The denial of pain treatment and lack of access to essential pain medicines such as oral morphine are cited by the Special Rapporteur as examples of the type of violations that occur and are the obligations of States to prevent and address. The Open Society Foundations and Campaign to Stop Torture in Healthcare posted a blog welcoming the report and its conclusions which you can view here.

This groundbreaking report joins a growing body of resources and tools advocating for palliative care and pain relief as human rights. At the 17th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2011, a panel discussion on “Access to Palliative Care: A Neglected Component of the Right to Health” was held with palliative care experts from India, Africa, and Latin America with opening remarks from the former President of Uruguay.  The panel discussion focused on human rights mechanisms to address global challenges that hamper access to pain and palliative care treatment and focused on the following objectives:

  • Mainstream the understanding that palliative care is an integral part of the full implementation of the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and engage in dialogue on best practices;
  • Follow up on the conclusions of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and give more visibility to the obligations of States;
  • Discuss how the Human Rights Council can use its mechanisms, including the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) procedure, and work with the World Health Organization and other international bodies to improve palliative care availability.

The full report from the side event is attached and available at here.  Please find additional information on palliative care as a human right here.

We encourage you to read the report and use the statements and arguments presented for your own advocacy purposes. We’ve already seen some traction using these arguments within the Human Rights Council. During India’s Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council in May 2012, Uruguay, during the interactive dialogue session, made the recommendation of establishing measures at the local and state levels to review and address obstacles that inhibit the population’s access to palliative pain medicine!