In late 2023 the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) approached Palliative Care Victoria (PCV) regarding several anecdotes emerging from members of local Muslim communities raising concerns about experiences and perceptions of end-of-life care.
Particularly troubling were questions surrounding the use of morphine and other opioid medications commonly administered for pain management. Specifically, the fact that these medications can cause drowsiness or confusion in patients and therefore interfere with the administration of Islamic end-of-life rites and, more concerningly, the notion that these treatments are hastening, if not causing, the death of a loved one. Unsurprisingly, there appeared to be a great deal of speculation among community members about the purpose of palliative care and how it aligns with Islamic laws and rituals.
(Photo) Rochelle Dullard from Palliative Care South East presenting to the Arabic Women’s Seniors Group assisted by group leader Randa Abboud.
In an effort to address these community concerns, ECCV collaborated with PCV and Palliative Care South East (PCSE) to deliver a number of information sessions to Muslim community groups located in Melbourne’s southeast.
Whilst recognising that end-of-life conversations are often very difficult; group members were provided with a culturally safe environment to share their concerns and misgivings. With the help of interpreters, the sessions explained the purpose and range of palliative care services and directly addressed many of the concerns regarding opioid use and issues relating to Islamic practices. Importantly, participants were encouraged to raise any questions and issues about clinical treatments, and religious requirements or preferences with their attending doctors, nurses and palliative care teams.
(Photo) Members of the Al-Emaan Seniors Group
To this end it was heartening to learn of one group member who reported using the insights from the session to advocate for her dying husband.
“The doctors were keeping him unconscious” she said “I explained to them that we wanted him awake so we could read the Quran to him as is our religious practice and to say our proper goodbyes. The doctors agreed to reduce the amount of morphine enough to make him conscious and he was able to see all his family members and say goodbye to them. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to get the information I needed from your session, especially the fact that I had the right to ask the doctors to manage my husband’s pain in a way that was respectful to our religious beliefs”.
Unfortunately, myths about the use of opioids at end-of-life and many other aspects of palliative care are common among all communities. So much so, that Palliative Care Australia has felt compelled to publish a document entitled Palliative Care Myths in an effort to quell misinformation.
Also, current concerns being raised within the Muslim community are not new. In fact in 2022 Palliative Care Victoria partnered with Muslim Health Professionals Australia to develop Islamic Perspectives on End-of-Life Issues - a document aimed at assisting Muslim families to navigate palliative care and other end-of-life issues. Several other resources are also available for Arabic-speaking communities on the PCV website.
(Photo from left) Hayat Doughan (ECCV), Linda Davidson and Rochelle Dullard (PCSE), Tonina Gucciardo-Masci (PCV), Randa Abboud (Arabic Women's Seniors Group)
PCV, ECCV and PCSE are committed to working together to improve access to inclusive and responsive palliative care for all multicultural and multifaith communities. We will continue to deliver sessions to community groups in 2024.
If you would like to organise a free session for your community group, please contact:
PCV Community Engagement Manager
Mobile: 0403 222 569
ECCV Ageing Well Lead
Mobile: 0478 217 956
or for community groups located in the south east suburbs of Melbourne
PCSE Community Liaison Officer
Mobile: 0402 845 012
PCV and ECCV wish to acknowledge Rochelle Dullard, Community Liaison Officer and Linda Davidson, Volunteer from Palliative Care South East, Randa Abboud from Arabic Women’s Seniors Group and members of the Al-Emaan Seniors Group for their support in conducting the sessions.
Community Engagement Manager
Palliative Care Victoria