have a life-threatening illness). In this sense, palliative care’s aim has never been ‘cure’. Rather, palliative medicine is about symptom control. It is about improving the quality of life of those who are seriously ill and dying.
To date, palliative care has been most successful in the treatment of pain. Indeed, it is often claimed - perhaps exaggeratedly - that palliative care can successfully address pain in 95 per cent of all cases. What is much less spoken about is the speciality’s limited ability to alleviate some of the other common symptoms of serious disease; symptoms such as weakness, breathlessness or nausea. Nor does palliative care always guarantee a good death.
No where are the shortcomings of palliative care be more obvious than in the tragic death in 2008 of 31 year old writer, Angelique Flowers. At the age of 15 years, Angelique was diagnosed with painful Crohn’s Disease. On 9 May 2008, shortly before her 31st birthday, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. As Angelique said, in one of the several videos she made at the time, ‘there is no Stage 5’. Upon diagnosis at Stage 4, Angelique’s cancer had already spread to her liver and ovaries. Her doctors told her that her days were numbered. They also told her that there was very little they could do to ensure that her death was pain-free and dignified.
As history now tells it, this courageous, clever, beautiful young woman died in the most difficult and unpleasant way. As a young palliative care patient she received the best that modern medicine could provide (and that money could buy). Despite some hiccups, Angelique’s pain control was described as ‘reasonable’. What was not so good and what the law prevented medicine from addressing, was her death.