Legal aspects of palliative care – series introduction

Categories: Policy.

This series will focus on the groundbreaking work that has taken place over the last several years at the intersection of palliative care, law, access to justice and human rights. 

In late 2006, palliative care providers in Cape Town, South Africa, assisting patients suffering from life-limiting illnesses such as cancer, HIV, and tuberculosis, identified an overwhelming need for help with requests from these patients struggling with legal issues. These issues, such as accessing social benefits and medicine, establishing arrangements for children, managing debt, securing identity documents, drafting a will and property disposition, created stress and anxiety and contributed to a diminished quality of life. As a result, a meeting was convened in which palliative care providers and legal advocates came together to discuss and identify ways to address the legal needs of patients. From that meeting a partnership was formed, providing patients with more holistic, comprehensive care. 

Since 2006, the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of South Africa (HPCA) has been at the forefront of advancing palliative care as a human right and ensuring access to justice for patients and families. HPCA has become a model for other countries through the organization’s partnerships with law schools, legal NGOs, and pro bono attorneys. HPCA’s training manual, Legal Aspects of Palliative Care, already in its second edition, is a resource for both legal professionals and palliative care providers, identifying the common legal issues facing patients, as well as case studies, recommendations and resources.

Moreover, South Africa is only one of several countries where palliative care providers and legal advocates have joined forces, recognizing the critical role of legal services and integrating this component as a part of palliative care’s holistic approach. 

In this series, readers will see the impact of this work in the lives of palliative care patients, family members, palliative care providers and legal professionals in South Africa, Georgia, Kenya, Uganda, and Ukraine. 

The authors are lawyers, physicians, and foundation and organisation directors, who bring their unique perspectives and reflections from various country contexts, facing different challenges and opportunities. Yet, the common themes of compassion, dedication, and courage link these stories. They all feature individuals working at the intersection of palliative care and human rights, who have transformed systems to provide sick, vulnerable and marginalized people with access to justice and the means to realise their rights.   

Look out for the articles on legal aspects of palliative care in the weeks to come on the international edition of ehospice.