Doctors around Africa are meeting under the auspices of the World Medical Association to work out the continent’s stance on death and dying in medical care.
The Nigerian Medical Association, host of the meeting in Abuja, is to present Nigeria’s position on palliative care, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, all controversial aspects of medicine focusing on end of life.
“The World Medical Association wants to hear an African voice on this topical issue. The African voice is silent, it is absent until now,” said Dr Mike Ogirima, president of Nigerian Medical Association.
“Europeans cannot talk for us anymore. They want Africans to talk for Africa. We will present our report to WMA,” said Ogirima.
“The voice of Africa will be heard as our stand. Right now, Nigeria and so many other countries don’t even have regulated palliative care for our terminally ill patients. We need to strengthen that voice. It is not only treating curable diseases. There are many terminally ill patients and they must die a qualitative death.”
“For once, the medical profession crosses into controversial terrain,” said health minister Isaac Adewole.
“Building a consensus on end-of-life issues might be more difficult than anticipated. Nigeria has a youthful population, and end-of-life issue is tough…Ageing is normal, ageing must come, and with it certain things follow.”
Alongside Nigeria, medical associations from Cote d’Ivoire, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Kenya are part of the WMA’s first-ever meeting since 1947 in Africa to consider the place of death and dying in medicine.
The association comprises 114 national associations and more than 10 million physicians worldwide.
WMA secretary-general Otmar Kloiber said the voice of the continent was crucial to the associations worldwide.
Globally, five countries have legalized euthanasia (ending the life of a patient faced with incurable illness) and assisted suicide (writing a patient a lethal drug prescription of choice) is legal in eight other countries.
In Nigeria, as in many other African countries, all forms of death on the end-of-life spectrum is considered homicide.
Palliative care (improving quality of life by relieving pain for people in life-threatening illness) only entered Nigerian health care system in 1991.
Only 17 palliative care services run so far, 10 of them home-based.
Experts will consider legal, religious, social, psychological, ethical dimensions of the end-of-life dilemma before submitting the continent’s stance.