Improve Access to Pain Relief for Dying Patients

Distributing Pain Medication

Target: Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)

Goal: Call on international public health officials to provide education on the importance of pain relief for terminally ill patients

In a report that examined the types of palliative or “end-of-life” care offered in various countries, researchers found that nearly 18 million people died in unnecessary pain in 2012 because they lacked access to pain medication. In many of the developing nations included in the study lack of access stemmed from lack of education about palliative care, including amplified fears about the effects of pain medication.

For the terminal patients who live in these countries having little or no access to palliative care often means no relief from the excruciating pain of their final moments. Often the pain becomes too much, leading to reports from Ethiopia of cancer patients throwing themselves in front of trucks to end their suffering.

According to the World Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA) part of the problem rests in governments’ refusals to provide the medicines due to exaggerated fears of addiction and illicit use. Dr. Stephen Connor of the WPCA says that “[Governments] are suffering mostly from ignorance; they don’t know what palliative care is and that it’s possible to relieve suffering.” This misinformation about pain relief is also present in many medical staff, who often receive little to no training on end-of-life care.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which conducted the study, is striving to make universal palliative care a reality. The first step is to provide proper education. “You can change laws and regulations and policy, but if you don’t change attitudes nothing changes,” said Dr. Connor.

Palliative care, which includes not only freedom from pain but support for those suffering and their families, is something that should be available to everyone. Making that happen relies on access to education. Show your support, and urge the WHO to provide proper education on end-of-life care.


Dear Dr. Chan,

A recent report by your organization found that roughly 18 million people died in unnecessary pain in 2012, without palliative care available to them. This seemingly-endless suffering is inhumane and often leads to suicide when individuals feel they have no other option.

I applaud your efforts to expand access to this necessary care; however I believe the most crucial step in solving this crisis is to first provide adequate education. Governments and medical agencies need to know how to properly support terminal patients and their families in order to dispel the myths surrounding pain-relieving medicine and end this unnecessary suffering.

No one should have to needlessly suffer in their last moments. It is not enough to change regulations; we must also change the mindset. I urge you, within your current efforts, to make education on palliative care a top priority.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: U.S. Navy Seaman Joseph Caballero via Wikimedia Commons

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