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Palliative care deals with life

October 14, 2017

It is a misconception that palliative care deals with death. On the contrary, it deals with ‘Life’, writes Dr. Sushma Bhatnagar in 'WION'.



The philosophy of palliative care emerged with Cicely Saunders' vision for ‘a good death’. In essence, palliative care is medical care focused on improving quality of life of patients and their families.


Palliative care also focuses on improving planning and communication among the care team (patient, family, and medical staff), and addressing emotional and spiritual needs. The emphasis is on managing pain and other symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, fatigue and reduced appetite.


A patient may receive palliative care at any stage of the disease, and continue for many years. Ideally, it should be started when a person is diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, and goes beyond the patients’ death, with bereavement care and support for the family. It may also be combined with treatment designed to cure illness or prolong life.


A palliative care consult can be done in the hospital or the outpatient clinic. It is intended to support your care in all areas employing a team-based approach. The team will include the patient and the patient’s family, current doctor and care providers, and specialists in palliative care.


Palliative care specialists can address the more complex problems that come with a serious illness. The incidence of cancer and chronic diseases are increasing day by day, and so is the number of terminally ill patients with poor quality of life.


Good quality of life and death with dignity are considered as basic human rights. Less than 3 per cent of India’s 1.38 billion population has access to palliative care. The Indian Council of Medical Research has recently projected that India is possibly looking at over 17 lakh new cases of cancer and over 8 lakh death related to the disease by the year 2020.


Other conditions with palliative care needs are — AIDS, muscular dystrophy, dementia, multi-organ failure, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, end-stage renal disease, heart diseases, those who are permanently bed-ridden and people with neurological problems.


So, providing a good palliative care to all terminally ill and chronic patients is a moral responsibility of medical fraternity.


In India, besides increasing the number of trained human resources, awareness level regarding palliative care among general population needs to be improved.


Essentially, the primary aim is to rehabilitate and empower the patient and caregivers to be able to live, or die, peacefully and be cared for at home. In conclusion, palliative care is a form of justice to the patients who are in agony. This justice should be delivered to every patient.


Sushma Bhatnagar is Professor & Head, Department of Pain and Palliative care, AIIMS, and editor of Indian Journal of Palliative Care.


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