Ethics & palliative care during international humanitarian action

Grant awarded: £254,762

Lead organisation: McMaster University, McGill University, Humanitarian Health Ethics Research Group

Project length: 2016-2018

Principal Investigator: Lisa Schwartz, PhD
Matthew Hunt, PhD

  • HHE team involved in the Palliative Care Project. L-R: Kevin Bezanson, Matthew Hunt, Leigh-Anne Gillespie, Lisa Schwartz, Laurie Elit, Carrie Bernard, Elysée Nouvet, Sonya de Laat and John Pringle


• To develop evidence clarifying ethical and practical possibilities, challenges, and consequences of humanitarian organizations addressing or failing to address patients’ and families’ palliative needs during public health emergencies
• To inform realistic, context-sensitive guidance, education, and practices for the provision of palliative care during international humanitarian action
• To develop a baseline of current palliative care provisions for clinical and psychosocial care in humanitarian action against which progress can be measured.

Existing palliative care competencies may not transfer easily into crisis settings in the face of social-political or environmental catastrophe. HCPs require a framework for providing palliative care in humanitarian settings so they can offer something even when ‘there is nothing left to offer.’

Expected outcomes:

We aim to encourage humanitarian aid organizations to consider integrating palliative care in their programs and how best to do so. The outcomes of this study will help elucidate the realities of palliative care needs in humanitarian practice, and offer organizational policy makers evidence to base justifications for endorsing and resourcing palliative interventions in humanitarian action.

The 67th World Health Assembly called for more education and training in palliative care for health care professionals including for humanitarian workers. Our research will generate evidence about good practices, and help identify gaps in and training needs for humanitarian palliative care response. These can also inform decision-making processes for international humanitarian guidelines. The results will show whether there is sufficient evidence for, and if so, how palliative care can best be integrated in humanitarian response


Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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