Conference Report: European Association for Palliative Care Congress (EAPC) 2024

Ariana Axiaq, an undergraduate of Queen's University Belfast, received an IME grant to present a poster at this conference in May, Barcelona. Ariana's summary of the event is below.

By lorrainep · June 27, 2024

Palliative Care has only formed 2 weeks of our medical curriculum. Of those 2 weeks, most of our time was occupied with assimilating the nuances of prescribing for patients receiving palliative care: from learning about opioid conversion, the mode of action of anti-emetics to how to ensure all the drugs were compatible for syringe drivers. I was glad to spend some time talking to patients and their families which provided a deeper and broader perspective to caring for this population group. However, at the end, I was still eager to know more about the ethical considerations to be acknowledged when dealing with patients whose time remaining was very precious.

This led me to work on various projects, such as writing an award-winning essay on the specific needs of patients from sexual and gender minorities receiving palliative care and the ethical concerns around the concept of ‘chosen’ family over biological family and disclosure of sexual orientation. More recently, I worked on a project regarding use of immersive VR in improving mental wellbeing in patients with chronic illness and the ethical implications around distribution and accessibility. Thanks to the conference grant awarded by the Institute of Medical Ethics, I was supported to present this work at the European Association for Palliative Care Congress (EAPC) 2024.

This 3-day conference was a remarkable experience, where I not only got to present my work to a room of about 100 people but I benefitted from having a discussion with other attendees and other speakers. Topics of interest during the conference were the global disparity in resources allocated to palliative care, the importance of cultural competence when talking about palliative care clinically and when recruiting participants for research as well as the discrepancy in which conditions are considered to merit palliative care measures and care. A particularly underrepresented group in the conference was the paediatric population. I felt that these overall encapsulate the numerous barriers facing patients at the last stages of their life: be it resources, awareness or cultural stigma.

There were two events however that left a particular impact. One was a discussion that spiralled from questions during panel discussion. While euthanasia is already a controversial topic, in this case the spotlight was on whether supranational organisations such as the EU had the power to oblige doctors to conduct physician-assisted dying, whereby undermining the doctor’s autonomy. Another interesting activity was a talk of the ethical implications of AI in palliative care. This talk opened my eyes to how unprepared doctors are at dealing with the ethical challenges imposed by AI such as patient consent to know prognosis has been generated by AI, the dilemma of offering services such as creation of AI-generated personas after death and use of AI algorithms in allocating care and ceilings of care.

After attending this conference, I felt energised and an urge to continue exploring ethical issues both clinically and through my work as an academic. In particular, I wish to further work on the ethical underpinnings supporting provision of palliative care and euthanasia to incarcerated individuals and people living with chronic mental illnesses such as treatment-resistant schizophrenia.

I would like to thank Lorraine Peers and the rest of the committee from the Institute of Medical Ethics for this opportunity, the EAPC organising committee and my supervisor Professor Martin Dempster and his team at Queen’s University Belfast.