Our responsibility on Global Human Rights Day

This Monday 10th December 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lead Nurse in Palliative and End of Life Care Philip Ball reflects on how far we’ve come but warns that we mustn’t become complacent.

Nelson Mandela's cell brings home the atrocious human rights abuses that have occurred throughout history.

100 years ago saw the Armistice for WW1, the ‘war to end all wars’, that then led to WW2 in which humankind witnessed such heinous abuses of those ‘not like us’ that people were driven to find a new expression of human rights.

Seventy years ago, on 10th December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations as a direct result of this. For an overview of the history of human rights, visit the British Institute of Human Rights website.

Human Rights therefore became a global issue, advocating the equality of all. In the UK, we now have the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into law in 2000. This Act encompasses 16 rights from the European Convention of Human Rights and allows anyone to claim these rights in any UK court.

Human rights is “everyone’s business”

Since the introduction of the Human Rights Act, the UK has been learning to live with the explicit language of human rights and its implications for life across our four nations. Even so, we still have some way to go – for example, discrimination on grounds of race, gender and sexual orientation still exists.

In public life, the Human Rights Act has introduced obligations to organisations and the individuals within them to uphold the rights enshrined within the Act. Over the last few years, the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) has been working with health-related organisations, including Sue Ryder, to look at how the human rights of those being cared for can be upheld.

Sue Ryder has been supported by the Burdett Trust for Nursing to work with the BIHR to develop a human rights-based approach to end of life care.

In their training workshops, Sue Ryder reminds us that “under the Human Rights Act, everyone working in health and social care has a legal duty to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of those in their care”. And that makes human rights everyone’s business.

How Sue Ryder is championing human rights in end of life care

Advocacy on behalf of those in our care can be strengthened by using human rights legislation and language. That’s why, as part of their collaboration, Sue Ryder and the BIHR have developed a Guide to Human Rights in End of Life Care for Practitioners.

This guide helps practitioners make decisions with a patient about their care based on their human rights. For example, when faced with various options about t­­heir future care and differing opinions from their loved ones, a patient might need an advocate to support their rights in deciding where they wish to be cared for, and by whom.

Much was said about this at the Inaugural Sue Ryder Lecture, delivered in February this year by Peter Tatchell, and Sue Ryder is also holding a Human Rights Conference in 2019 that is aimed at inspiring further understanding and practical application of human rights in end of life care.

Progress has been made, but there is still more to do

On this Global Human Rights Day, we can see we are making strides in applying a human rights approach in the day-to-day life of those in our care as they come to the end of their lives. This has a localised impact – one case at a time, perhaps.

But that it’s happening at all is a testament to those who saw that we are all, globally, equal in human rights terms. It is their work and the human tragedies that drove them on that should be remembered today as we recall, too, that people across the world still need their human rights protecting – and we have a responsibility to make it our business in our daily lives.

Download End of Life Care and Human Rights: A practitioner's guide


Lead Nurse in Palliative and End of Life Care Philip Ball

Lead Nurse in Palliative and End of Life Care

Philip Ball

Philip Ball is a Registered Nurse at Milton Keynes University Hospital with over 40 years’ experience. The care of people at the end of life is his ongoing passion and, with a strong interest in ethics, he is keen to promote human rights in his life and work.