Friday, April 15, 2016

Elderly and Palliative Care in Europe

Last Wednesday, I participated in an event organised by the European Parliament Working Group on Human Dignity with the title "Elderly and Palliative Care", a Group in which I am honored to serve as a Secretary General. It was a very substantive and fruitful meeting. I am confident that the work of the Working Group will continue in a very successful manner. After the meeting, the following press release was issued.

Terminally ill in Europe deserve palliative care with respect and human dignity.

On the 13th of April, the cross-party Working Group on Human Dignity in the European Parliament organized a hearing on the topic "Elderly and Palliative Care". 
"Euthanasia is incompatible with Human Dignity. Eliminating a problem by eliminating a person is not a solution" said Miroslav Mikolasik MEP (EPP, Chair of the EPP Working Group on Bioethics and Human Dignity) at the opening of the forum on "Elderly and Palliative Care"

"The time is ripe to enshrine in the legislation of each Member State a right to access to palliative care for every sick person whose condition requires it, to ensure that this right is respected and therefore to develop palliative care to the extent necessary, and to this end to create a sufficient number of institutions adapted to the needs and the culture of the country and to grant them the resources and the means that are necessary

This requires that political decision-makers in every country should be aware of deficiencies in their health system and in the training of healthcare professionals in this field, and they should have a firm desite to provide a solution. This mobilisation of public authorities depends partly on the reaction of the population which currently remains, in too many countries, poorly informed and insufficiently aware." said Fr Patrick Verspieren, COMECE's rapporteur on palliative care in Europe.

"Despite the trends emerging from the Netherlands and Belgium, and despite advancements in palliative care in recent times, there are consistent calls for governments to enact legislation to legalise euthanasia. Many would have doctors forced into positions where they become arbiters of life and death, rather than focusing on treating illnesses and providing palliative care" said Laurence Wilkinson, European Legal Counsel of ADF international, when he explained the case of Tom Mortier, a university lecturer who discovered that his mother has been killed under the euthanasia regime in Belgium.ADF International took the case to the European Court of Human Rights and is currently reviewing the legal framework for euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands. 

Contributions by Members of the Working Group.

“A valuable and informative meeting on elderly and palliative care. Colleagues and experts strongly reject the euthanasia legislation (in The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg). We hear concrete and touching examples of how it works out in practice.” Bastiaan Belder MEP (ECR, Chair of the Working Group)

"The road to euthanasia was paved with so many ideological arguments but how can it be controlled now?" (Alojz Peterle MEP EPP, vice-chair of the Working Group). "The quality of a society is measured by the attention a society pay to the weaker" remarked on the importance of successfully integrating palliative care to the healthcare systems

Luigi Morgano MEP (S&D, vice-chair of the Working Group) considers polarisation on this topic unnecessary: “The issue of "cure" tends today to radicalise around two extremes: on one side, active cures that aim to heal and prolong life; on the other hand euthanasia / assisted suicide, medical practices forbidden in many countries, but legal in some. We're at risk, in this context, of creating two stereotypes: the good doctor, who wants to conserve life; and the bad doctor, who stops and seems to want to shorten it. This is a misleading vision. It conceals the wider spectrum of interventions useful for the patient: curing symptoms, the care for quality of life, the reflection on life expectancy, respecting the will of the patient, palliative care, searching for a dignified passing, free of avoidable suffering.” 

The MEPs  expressed the common understanding that elderly who are terminally ill should be treated with respect and human dignity, an essential value in Europe. That includes proper palliative care without the need to fear that their life in its vulnerable stage is threatened by acts which will hasten their death.  "Euthanasia does not fit within this definition of Palliative Care.” they concluded. 

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