Lack of prioritization of palliative care contributes to torture in health care settings- UN Report

Categories: Policy.

The report focuses on practices in health care settings that are “tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Through the report, the special rapporteur seeks to illuminate policies, practices and gaps in protection that contribute to this treatment.

A section of the report (pp12-13) is dedicated to the denial of pain treatment, and mentions lack of prioritization of palliative care as one of the barriers to accessing adequate pain medication. 

The report quotes statistics illustrating the inequity in access to adequate pain medication, and cites barriers to access. These include: 

  • Overly restrictive drug control policies
  • Misinterpretation of appropriate regulations
  • Poor supply chain management
  • Inadequate infrastructure
  • Lack of prioritization of palliative care 
  • Prejudice against the use of opioids for pain management
  • The absence of pain management policies and guidelines for practitioners.

The special rapporteur reminded the council of States’ legal obligation to ensure the availability and accessibility of medications included in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines.

On the issue of torture in health care settings, the Special Rapporteur issued a join statement with the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, reaffirming that: “The failure to ensure access to controlled medicines for the relief of pain and suffering threatens fundamental rights to health and to protection against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Governments must guarantee essential medicines – which include, among others, opioid analgesics – as part of their minimum core obligations under the right to health, and take measures to protect people under their jurisdiction from inhuman and degrading treatment” (p13).

The full report can be accessed online