Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights calls on protecting the dignity and autonomy of older persons in need of care

Last 18 January 2018 Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, issued a comment on “The right of older persons to dignity and autonomy in care” where he calls on addressing the current violations of older persons’ human rights across Europe. AGE very much welcomes this excellent statement whose main points are perfectly in line with our positions.

HRC-older-persons-right-to-dignity-in-care_Jan2018In the comment, the Commissioner highlights the prevalence of ageist stereotypes about older persons, seen as “helpless, in poor health or dependent”, which has an impact on the enjoyment of their rights as equal citizens. He points to the fact that most often frailty and care needs increase as one gets older, but that the access of older persons to appropriate quality care and community living is still too often at stake.

Mr Muižnieks mentions the results of the project on human rights in residential long-term care conducted by ENNHRI (European Network of National Human Rights Institutions), which show how older persons’ human rights are challenged in residential settings of the countries analysed.

Ensuring community and independent living regardless of the living arrangement

His comment calls on enforcing choice of the living arrangement and making sure the rights to community and independent living - included in article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), “along with dignity and self-determination” - are the “guiding principles for the design of long-term care services, including in residential settings”.

Addressing abuse and maltreatment

The Commissioner also calls on addressing the high prevalence of elder abuse among older persons with care needs, with at least 4 million older persons experiencing maltreatment in Europe every year according to the World Health Organization (WHO). He adds that “it is urgent for member states to thoroughly review, with the participation of older persons, their approach to long-term care in order to make it more human rights-based”.

Improving access and quality

The Comment also builds on the lack of action of most states to improve the access to long-term care services, adding that “despite the urgency of rethinking long-term care in the context of the rapidly growing ageing population of Europe, many Member States are not adequately planning for these future challenges”. The Commissioner therefore calls on ensuring the accessibility and affordability of services and performing “regular independent monitoring of long-term care services on the basis of clear principles and rights that older persons can easily enforce themselves”.

Making palliative care accessible to older people

The comment also reflects on another issue that affects the dignity of older persons: the access to palliative care. Evidence shows that access to pain relief is insufficient across Europe, which is particularly true for older persons who approach the end of their lives. As the comment highlights, “lack of specific measures to avoid pain or to allow the terminally ill to die with dignity naturally affects older persons in a disproportionate manner, as they experience increased rates of chronic and terminal illnesses involving moderate to severe pain”. The Commissioner calls on rethinking palliative care policies in all states to address these issues.

The Commissioner supports the discussions on older persons’ human rights at United Nations

As a closing to the comment, Mr. Muižnieks states his support to ongoing discussions at the UN to assess the need for a binding international legal instrument.

AGE logoThe useful sources provided at the end of the text mentions AGE’s Older Persons’ Self-Advocacy Handbook. The Commissioner's comment is indeed very much in line with our positions around access to long-term care and palliative care. This important comment will support our advocacy work within the United Nations’ Open-Ended Working Group, which this year will discuss the issues of autonomy & independence and long-term & palliative care. It will also give great impulse to our work on defining the right to long-term care in view of the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and around the access to palliative care within the PACE project.

You can read the full comment of the Commissioner for Human Rights here.

For any questions or remarks, do not hesitate to contact Borja Arrue, AGE’s Project and Policy Officer responsible for long-term care and elder abuse,

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