Medical care or support for the terminally ill is rarely available in India, the main reason being the end of life health care practice known as ‘palliative care’ has yet to be established in most regions. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes palliative care as an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.
There are countless research studies providing evidence of the positive outcomes for terminally ill people and their families as a result of receiving palliative care. Among the many benefits reported, we know that people cope better with their physical symptoms and are more emotionally prepared to deal with the natural response to their diagnosis such as fear, anger or denial. A regular prescription of pain medication can enable people living with disease to stay in employment for longer, remain engaged in their communities and continue to support their children’s schooling. Being able to plan and prepare for their impending mortality can help to reduce the risk of families falling into crisis and becoming trapped in the cycle of poverty. The planning and preparation for dying is essential for the families to be emotionally prepared for loss, have a plan in place for the future and for the patient to die in peace and with dignity and wherever possible, pain free.
Over the last twenty years the movement has seen significant growth and development. For example, in the UK, services were originally supported by charities but are now funded and delivered by both the NHS and not for profit organisations. In the US, clinics and hospitals offer dedicated practitioners and facilities and have developed highly successful volunteer-led services in the community.