Allowing a refugee to die with dignity would show Australia's human heart
Australian immigration and asylum Opinion Allowing a refugee to die with dignity would show Australia's human heart Rachel Coghlan
A terminally ill man risks spending his dying days in pain and isolation despite a compassionate solution being available
The report on the refusal of the Australian Border Force to allow Ali*, a 63-year-old Afghan refugee on Nauru, to come to Australia for palliative care is deeply disturbing. Ali is dying from advanced lung cancer, and would receive patently inadequate care should he remain on Nauru. Now Australian doctors have called on the immigration minister to act quickly to bring Ali to our shores.
Palliative care aims to prevent and relieve the suffering caused by terminal or chronic conditions through the treatment of pain and other symptoms â" be they physical, psychosocial or spiritual. Palliative care helps to improve quality of life and provide dignity and comfort to people in their last days, weeks or months of life. Since the medical staff on Nauru cannot provide the supportive car e Ali requires, the ABF has told him that it will fund his return home or his move to Taiwan for treatment. But Ali has understandably rejected both these alternatives. As a Hazari he fears persecution in his homeland, and in Taiwan he would have no support network and no one to perform the Shia burial ritual when he dies.
As a refugee seeking asylum outside his home country, Ali has already suffered through the harsh realities of leaving his wife and children behind in Afghanistan. He now faces the very real risk of suffering in pain and isolation in his dying days despite a compassionate solution being available.
Like Ali, many refugees in crisis situations could benefit from palliative care. One small health team in Bangladesh is working to improve the quality of life for people in refugee camps with chronic or terminal illness through inexpensive, quality care and pain relief. Mojibor is a 10-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Coxâs Bazar, Bangladesh. After he fled Myanmar in 2017, Mojiborwas diagnosed with incurable bone cancer. He was found lying in his tent unable to move with pain. The palliative care team gave Mojiborpain relief and provided support to his family. Though he has limited time left, Mojibor can now run and kick his football again. His mother says âWe were told to kill him with poison as nothing would help to cure his disease. My son is totally free of suffering right now.â
Australia has a long and commendable record of providing medical help to suffering individuals in our region whose communities do not have the expertise or facilities to help them. For example, burns victims such as Rafika and Uswatun Rasmiddin, two Indonesian sisters who received significant burns after an earthquake on their island in 2005; patients requiring complex surgery such as Teresinha da Costa, a paediatric nurse from Timor-Leste, who suffered from a life-threatening congenital heart defect; and children with disabilities or defor mities such as Zoe, a 6-month-old girl from Vanuatu, whose brain tissue had begun to cover her face and impact her sight. All these individuals have been brought to Australia for life-saving treatment and rehabilition.
Australia also has a notable record of providing palliative care for its citizens who, like Ali, are suffering from a terminal illness. Australian governments have committed to addressing the palliative care needs of our citizens through the National Palliative Care Strategy. Palliative care in Australia is provided in almost all settings where health care is provided, including paediatric services, acute hospitals, aged care services and specialist inpatient settings, hospices and community-based services. The professional standards and availability of palliative care services in Australia are considered some of the best in the world.We have to get better at supporting patients right to the end of life | Liz Callaghan Read more
The Aust ralian community is therefore well placed to give Ali the care he needs in this final stage of his life. Since Ali is a refugee under our protection, the ABF has a moral obligation to provide him with appropriate palliative care that respects his cultural and religious background. Ali would not have a chance to settle in Australia nor indeed to see his family again, but he might have a chance to die with dignity.
Perhaps even more importantly, in providing such care to Ali in Australia, the ABF would be honouring our nationâs history of compassion for individuals who are in desperate need and whose own communities are unable to help them. It would show, as Ali himself says, that we have a human heart.
* Ali is a patronym, his full name is withheld to protect his family.
â¢ Rachel Coghlan is a member of the Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Settings and Emergencies Network (PalCHASE)Topics
- Australian immigration and asylum
- Opi nion
- Death and dying
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