Advancing palliative care as a human right

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Nov;38(5):767-74. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.03.003. Epub 2009 Sep 24.


The international palliative care community has articulated a simple but challenging proposition that palliative care is an international human right. International human rights covenants and the discipline of palliative care have, as common themes, the inherent dignity of the individual and the principles of universality and nondiscrimination. However, when we consider the evidence for the effectiveness of palliative care, the lack of palliative care provision for those who may benefit from it is of grave concern. Three disciplines (palliative care, public health, and human rights) are now interacting with a growing resonance. The maturing of palliative care as a clinical specialty and academic discipline has coincided with the development of a public health approach to global and community-wide health problems. The care of the dying is a public health issue. Given that death is both inevitable and universal, the care of people with life-limiting illness stands equal to all other public health issues. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) includes the right to health care and General Comment 14 (paragraph 34) CESCR stipulates that "States are under the obligation to respect the right to health by, inter alia, refraining from denying or limiting equal access for all persons, ... to preventive, curative and palliative health services." However, these rights are seen to be aspirational-rights to be achieved progressively over time by each signatory nation to the maximum capacity of their available resources. Although a government may use insufficient resources as a justification for inadequacies of its response to palliative care and pain management, General Comment 14 set out "core obligations" and "obligations of comparable priority" in the provision of health care and placed the burden on governments to justify "that every effort has nevertheless been made to use all available resources at its disposal in order to satisfy, as a matter of priority, [these] obligations." This article describes recent advocacy activities and explores practical strategies for the palliative care community to use within a human rights framework to advance palliative care development worldwide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Human Rights / trends*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Palliative Care / ethics*
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Palliative Care / trends
  • Public Health
  • World Health Organization