New guidelines intended to improve the care and rights of the dying have been issued by the Finland government, but many critics are not so happy about them.
"We hope they'll have an effect on how municipalities and hospital districts arrange to care for the dying. Good palliative care is the right of every dying person," Minister for Health and Social Services Paula Risikko said in a statement.
AdvertisementIn essence, the guidelines state that a dying patient's own wishes must be at the forefront of any treatment plan, regardless of whether they are in private or public care.
For example, they have the right to draw up a specific treatment plan with the input of their families and care professionals, and they have the right to choose where they wish to die.
If they opt to go home, then the hospital district is urged to ensure the patient gets whatever pain management or other final treatments are required at home.
Finnish experts have lambasted the country's public health care system for falling short of minimum requirements for terminal care set out by the European Association of Palliative Care.
In an editorial published by the Finnish Medical Journal in May, terminal care experts Eero Vuorinen and Juha Haenninen said that Finland lacked hospice beds, qualified care givers, and any unifying policy on palliative care.
"Palliative care in Finland is haphazard and not equally available to people who are dying," they wrote.
The Finnish press has also picked up stories of dying patients being shuffled from one department to another and having their pain relief needs overlooked in busy wards.
The new guidelines do not free up funds or give patients any legal recourse, but Aira Pihlainen, chair of the national advisory board on health care ethics, told AFP they were a powerful tool that patients could point to when they discussed their needs with doctors.
The specifics of the guidelines are being supported by a new health care bill which would guarantee, in principle, the access to pain relief in all stages of an illness.
In Finland, terminally ill patients have the right to refuse treatment, but the guidelines do not address whether they have the right to end their lives.