‘Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual’ – World Health Organization

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is for people living with a terminal illness where a cure is no longer possible. It’s not just for people diagnosed with terminal cancer, but any terminal condition. It’s also for people who have a complex illness and need their symptoms controlled. Although these people usually have an advanced, progressive condition, this isn’t always the case.
Palliative care aims to treat or manage pain and other physical symptoms. It will also help with any psychological, social or spiritual needs. Treatment will involve medicines, therapies, and any other support that specialist teams believe will help their patients. It includes caring for people who are nearing the end of life. This is called end of life care.
The goal is to help you and everyone affected by your diagnosis to achieve the best quality of life. You might receive palliative care alongside particular treatments, therapies and medicines, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Palliative care:

• improves quality of life
• gives relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
• supports life and keeping people as healthy as possible, regarding dying as a normal process
• doesn’t quicken or postpone death
• combines psychological and spiritual aspects of care
• offers a support system to help people live as actively as possible until death
• offers a support system to help the family cope during a person’s treatment and in bereavement
• uses a team approach to address the needs of the person who is ill and their families
• also applies to the earlier stages of illness, alongside other therapies that are aimed at prolonging life
• can take place in hospitals, hospices but also in people’s homes.

What is End of Life Care?

End of life care is an important part of palliative care for people who are nearing the end of life. End of life care is for people who are considered to be in the last year of life, but this time frame can be difficult to predict.
End of life care aims to help people live as well as possible and to die with dignity. It also refers to treatment during this time and can include additional support, such as help with legal matters. End of life care continues for as long as you need it.

There are a number of different terms used for the specialised health care that is provided to people who have an advanced illness, with little or no prospect of cure.  In Australia, the most common term is ‘Palliative Care’, but it can also be called ‘Hospice Care’, ‘End of Life Care’ and ‘Specialist Palliative Care’.

In the final stages of most terminal illnesses, care priorities tend to change from an ongoing focus of providing a cure, to palliative care for the relief of pain, symptoms and emotional stress. However, ensuring a person’s final life stages are as good as they can be, requires more than just being aware of the care choices available. Being able to better anticipate the demands of end of life caregiving, can help ease the journey from care and grief towards better acceptance and healing, for everyone concerned.

Quality palliative care embraces life and treats dying as a natural process, neither hastening nor delaying death.  It should address the many needs the person and their carers have including treatment options and emotional, social and spiritual concerns.

Palliative care will affect all of us at some stage in our lives whether as a patient, carer, family member, neighbour or friend. When someone has an illness that cannot be cured and will lead to death, palliative care may be suggested. This may occur within any age group, not exclusively with the elderly.  If the diagnosis of a life threatening illness involves a child or adolescent, the care plan and decision making process will be different.  Please see our article – End of Life Care for Children & Teenagers.

There isn’t a single specific point in an illness when end of life care begins, as it very much depends on the individual person and advice from health professionals.  Depending on the illness and the person’s unique circumstances, this final stage period may last from a matter of days, weeks or months to several years.

The demand for palliative care services across Australia is expected to increase over time due to the continued growth of an ageing population. In addition, the pattern of disease at the end of life is changing, such that an increasing proportion of people are expected to die from chronic progressive illnesses. People with these illnesses are most likely to make use of palliative care services

Palliative care and euthanasia are ‘NOT’ the same thing. Euthanasia is when a person’s life is deliberately ended so that they avoid suffering from an incurable condition or illness.  Euthanasia is not legal in most parts of the world.  As of October 2015, human euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia and Luxembourg.  Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania, Canada, and in the United States of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Montana and California (effective January 1, 2016).