Last updateFri, 05 Feb 2016 2pm

Facing the end requires more than just medical care

In 2009, Mexico passed a commendable set of laws guaranteeing all patients the right to specialist end-of-life or palliative care.

In practice, the legislation has proved to be hollow as this mutli-disciplinary terminal care treatment  is rarely delivered in a timely or appropriate form, if at all, say those working in this developing field for Mexico.

For Dr. Susana Lua Nava, a nun who runs the non-profit Juntos Contra el Dolor, a four-year-old palliative care hospital/clinic in Guadalajara, the problem lies mostly with an indifferent medical profession. 

“We still need the medical body to accept palliative care as a specialty,” she says. “Doctors can’t do everything on their own. Oncologists usually don’t inform the families of those with terminal cancer that they can have access to services that address their emotional, social and spiritual concerns, as well as physical ones. They don’t tell them of the options to dignify their final days.”

Palliative care in its modern context has its roots in the groundbreaking work undertaken by Cicely Saunders, who opened the world’s first purpose-built hospice in London, England in 1967.  The first hospice in the United States opened in Branford, Connecticut, in 1973.

While still in its infancy in Mexico – “we’re about 50 years behind the rest of the developed world,” notes Lua – palliative care has become an integral part of many countries’ health programs.  Around 80 percent of hospitals in the United States with more than 300 beds now have their own palliative care units.  

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