Focus Topics

topic 2 | Activity 8: Human rights and palliative care

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes palliative care as a human right and states that it should be provided through person-centred and integrated health services. When it comes to provision of palliative care, UNDRIP provides a framework and a responsibility to ensure that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people who are affected by life-limiting illness are able to access quality, culturally-responsive palliative care.1

The ‘right to health’ stated in UNDRIP includes a range of socioeconomic factors that influence the conditions in which people can have a healthy life and extends to the various underlying determinants of health such as food and nutrition, clean water, housing, adequate sanitation, safe working conditions and a healthy environment.2

For Australian Indigenous peoples, the determinants of health also include factors such as cultural practice and expression – connection to Country, being on Country, self-determination and leadership, language, family, kinship and community, and identity (as described in Section 2).3

The National Palliative Care Strategy acknowledges the issues that Australian Indigenous peoples experience in accessing palliative care:

…palliative care is not equally available to all people across Australia, for reasons of geography, awareness, economics, workforce and accessibility. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in particular, are impacted by unique factors such as intergenerational trauma, cultural dislocation, oppression, and systemic racism that influence their decision making around end-of-life considerations. National Palliative Care Strategy 2018 4

Key Video Resource – ECU Indigenous Narratives: Des’s Story (3:16)

Des is a man from the Badimaya language group in the mid-west of Western Australia. He is an Aboriginal health worker. In this video, he tells the story of an Elder and his end-of-life journey.5

Check the thinking points below for some questions to consider with regard to this video.

  1. Watch the video of Des’s story and consider the following questions:
    • From the descriptions Des provides, what is important to the Elder he speaks about?
    • What does Des highlight about the care that the Elder received in hospital?
    • How were the rights to self-determination, dignity and palliative care supported in this story?
  1. World Health Organization. Palliative Care. 2020; Available from:
  2. Australian Human Rights Commission. UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 2021; Available from:
  3. Mayi Kuwayu National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing-ANU. Mayi Kuwayu Website. 2021; Available from:
  4. Australian Government Department of Health, National Palliative Care Strategy 2018, Department of Health, Editor. 2018: Canberra, Australia.
  5. Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Creating cultural empathy and challenging attitudes through Indigenous narratives. 2012; Available from: