Council of Europe launches end of life treatment guide

Categories: Policy.

The conference was held by the Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO), under the auspices of the Austrian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe has recognised that advances in medical knowledge and developments in technology bring with them ethical challenges. The Committee on Bioethics was established to address legal and ethical challenges in the medical field. 

The Guide, available to download from the Council of Europe website, presents an informative summary of principles to be applied to the decision-making process in specific end of life situations. The guide presents a process for ethical decision-making, rather than a list of actions to take in specific situations. 

Although aimed mainly at medical professionals, the authors of the guide suggest that it could form a basis for discussion among “patients, their family and close friends, all those providing support, and associations dealing with end‑of‑life situations.”

The guide notes that, in addition to aiming to cure the disease, doctors “also have a duty to take care of their patients, ease their suffering and provide them with support,” while going on to recognise that “the prolonging of life must not in itself be the sole aim of medical practice, which should attempt just as much to relieve suffering.”

The guide addresses issues such as:

  • Dialogue between health professionals and patients
  • Attendance to patients’ previously expressed wishes 
  • Unnecessary or disproportionate treatment 
  • Artificial nutrition and hydration  
  • Equity in access to health care.

On the topic of equity, the guide states: “It is now generally accepted that palliative care is an integral part of health care, as asserted in Recommendation Rec(2003)24 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the organisation of palliative care. In this context, it is therefore for governments to guarantee equitable access to such care for anyone whose state of health requires it.”

Download the guide from the Council of Europe website