Letter to the Field on Recent Events
To our colleagues in the palliative care community and beyond:
Palliative care is based on one essential principle—that each individual human life has value and meaning. We aim to learn the unique hopes and fears of each person in front of us, and to do all that we can to be present, provide support, and relieve suffering for our fellow humans.
Yes, this is a clinical practice we apply to our care for people living with serious illness, but it is also an ethos—the intrinsic value of each life—that flies directly in the face of racism. We at the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) are overcome with outrage and mourning in response to the ongoing disregard of this foundational principle.
After Ahmaud Arbery, a young African American man, was chased down and killed while out for a jog, our team at CAPC felt compelled to reach out to our community to acknowledge the virulent racism that has been present in our country since its founding, and to share our grief over these recent and horrifying events. Since we began to draft this post, George Floyd was killed over the course of eight agonizing minutes, in which he cried out that he couldn’t breathe as a police officer kneeled on his neck, and onlookers begged for his life.
What more direct evidence could we have that in 2020 it is still unsafe to be Black in America?
Centuries of racial prejudice have resulted in structural bias against communities of color that can be seen across all facets of American society—in our laws, our data sets, our workforce, our provision of services, and in health outcomes, as has been made abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has this to say about the roots of racism: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Dismantling racism, and the effects of racism, is a problem that will require all of us to act. Each of us can contribute by consciously practicing anti-racism—addressing the impacts of racism that are present within our spheres of influence. In palliative care this could mean getting ourselves and our colleagues trained on the realities of implicit bias, enforcing hiring practices that reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of our patient populations, or researching effective methods to bridge racial disparities in access to palliative care services.
Can the palliative care field solve racism? No. But we in palliative care are colleagues with shared values about the worth and dignity of each human life, and our community must be united against the racism that is killing our fellow humans.
We write this letter because CAPC has a platform, and we want this platform to reflect our moral convictions. We reach out to you to name our despair and anger—and for some of us, fear for our own safety—caused by these acts of racial violence. And, we look to our field and our extended community for hope and action.
Diane E. Meier, MD, on behalf of CAPC staff, faculty, and consultants
How to take action:
- Sign petitions calling for racial justice
- Donate to organizations that combat racism and address inequality
- Call or email your local representatives to ask them to take action against police brutality
- Become a better ally, friend, and colleague by listening and learning
- Recommended reading:
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
- An Anti-Racist Reading List compiled by Ibram X. Kendi for The New York Times
Read the CAPC statement on racial injustice.