Who cares about the suffering of older persons at the end of their lives? We do – UN rights experts

Categories: Policy.

“Palliative care is not only about lifting older persons out of needless pain and distress; it is an imperative to maintain their dignity at the end of their lives,” the human rights experts said, noting that the number of older persons is expected to more than double globally from 841 million people in 2013 to more than 2 billion in 2050.

“States have an obligation to ensure that older persons can enjoy the last years of life without unnecessary suffering, yet only 10% of the international demand for palliative care is met,” said the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte.

Older people have special needs, because their problems are different and often more complex than those of younger people, she noted. “Paradoxically, older people receive less palliative care than younger people and services focus on certain diseases such as cancer.”

“An urgent and sustainable response is needed to improve palliative care for older people and meet the growing needs of the world’s ageing populations,” Ms Kornfeld-Matte added.

States also have an obligation to prevent pain and suffering that amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, added the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez.

Mr Méndez urged governments around the world to ensure full access to palliative care of all terminally ill, including older persons, and overcome all obstacles that restrict availability to essential palliative care medications. “States should promote widespread understanding about the therapeutic usefulness of controlled substances and their rational use,” he stated.

“Healthcare systems which ignore the need to have accessible and good quality palliative care will never be able to effectively promote and protect right to health and related human rights of their citizens,” the UN Independent Expert on the right to health, Dainius Puras, said.

“Palliative care is an obligatory integral part of the full realisation of the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” Mr Puras further stressed.

World Hospice and Palliative Care Day is celebrated every year in the second week of October. The Day is organised by a committee of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, a network of hospice and palliative care national and regional organizations that support the development of hospice and palliative care worldwide. This year’s theme is ‘Who Cares? We Do!’

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Find out more on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.