The world in the 21st century has completely turned around our perception of the most critical of issues. Take for instance the issue of marriage and the emerging trend of same-sex union, or a nation ACTUALLY debating on whether to legalize abortion. These, among other issues are what we all encounter almost on daily basis; whether through the media or are within the circle of your relationships-from work, friends or even family. How we handle these issues is what bring the difference in our society and how unfortunate that we have no idea they are affecting us, leave alone how to approach them.

Palliative care is a delicate matter that needs the most sensible of approaches because it involves a wide range of issues in itself. Religion is one of these issues that form part of palliative care. Take for example a case one religious leader points out. A patient has been in a coma for over one year, living on a life-supporting machine and has no signs of recovering, or at least according to the doctors. The family has come together to decide the way forward and Euthanasia (mercy killing) is suggested. As you would expect, disputes arise as to what is the right thing to do-end this patient’s life and relieve them of the suffering and save the resources or keep the patient under the machine. Then comes the question, what is the stand of the religious leaders in such a case?

This is one of the topics that were addressed during a meeting between Machakos Palliative Care Unit and the local religious leaders on 6th November 2015. According to the main facilitator of the day Mr. Musau, palliative care is only best effected if all issues that affect the patient and family are addressed. “Most people ignore the religious aspect yet it is very crucial. The irony of this is that, people will ignore spiritual aspect and when such a time as breaking bad news or burying the patient comes, a pastor or any spiritual leader comes to mind,” says Mr. Musau. This meeting sought to bring out all the willing spiritual leaders together with the Palliative Care Team to make sure that patients and family members are prepared for the journey with the condition and the eventuality of it.

Another issue addressed in the meeting is the psychosocial needs of the patient. This refers to the mind and social life of the patient. Patients with terminal conditions are affected psychologically because they know that it is just a matter of time before they succumb to the condition. “Even at a hundred years, being told that you have 10 days left of your life is enough torture to kill you before even those days are over,” says one of the participants. It is for this reason therefore that this issue needed to be addressed because in most cases, these religious leaders are the very ones who receive people who need guidance and counseling. Family members too can be subjected to psychological trauma because of a patient they have in the family and thus the need for such to be addressed.

Sexuality is key in the life of an individual and it actually has been termed as a human right by other activists. Terminally-ill people are the main victims when it comes to sexuality. “There are many ways of showing your partner that you love and care for them-sexually other than the act itself. Some people have neglected their spouses because of a certain condition and this can only derail the situation. I know of a patient who had cervical cancer and his family member literally abandoned her. She was left in her own room and it even got to a point where none of them would go into her room,’’ says Victoria Mboya, a facilitator. She adds that it is important for the family to be with the patient lest they feel neglected and unwanted.

All these in one way or another calls for the religious leaders to step in the gap and confront these issues because they have an easier access to the needs of the patients and their families because of the trust they have been given in the society. The more than 25 religious leaders agreed that it was necessary that they meet quarterly a year with the palliative care unit to ensure that patients are given the best possible help from all angles of life.