On June 15, 2015, the Organization of American States became the first intergovernmental organization to explicitly recognize a right to palliative care, a health service that seeks to improve the quality of life in patients with life-limiting illnesses. This groundbreaking victory will benefit millions of people in the region who suffer from severe pain and other debilitating symptoms due to illnesses such as cancer, advanced organ failure, and dementias. It follows years of research and advocacy by Human Rights Watch to cast palliative care as a rights issue.
The Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, which will enter into force once two countries have ratified it. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay signed the convention immediately after the text was adopted. Although palliative care is a fundamental aspect of adequate healthcare provision, billions of people worldwide have little or no access to such care. Human Rights Watch has documented the needless suffering of people due to untreated pain in Armenia, India, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, and Ukraine.
The new convention calls on countries to provide comprehensive care to the elderly, including palliative care, and to prevent unnecessary suffering and futile and useless procedures. It also obligates countries to promote and strengthen research and academic training for palliative care, as well as specialized health professionals in geriatrics and gerontology. Additionally, the convention requires that both public and private healthcare, and long-term care institutions, offer access to palliative care, and that governments ensure access to essential pain medications for older persons.
The adoption of this convention is a monumental step in expanding access to palliative care. Human Rights Watch will now work with governments of OAS countries to ensure full implementation of these new convention rights and advocate for similar protections in other regional and international human rights instruments.