Loaves and Fishes — a parable for palliative care advocacy

Palliative care advocacy is challenging at the best of times — policymakers simply don’t want to think about the expense of caring for people with chronic and terminal illnesses. These constituents don’t contribute to the bottom line, and they don’t or soon won’t, vote. In the worst of times — the pandemic — advocacy is doubly challenging as all eyes are fixed on saving lives, the quintessential ‘rescue medicine.’ And so many people don’t even know what palliative care is: a recent survey revealed that more than 7o% of older Americans remain in the dark about it. There is a movement to rename it. Since most politicians and foreign office functionaries (the diplomats who negotiate UN resolutions) don’t know what it is, our advocacy must always begin with education — a synthesis of evidence and stories designed to compel, persuade, entreat, and so on!

Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand — today’s gospel — encourages me. He takes the little that was offered — five loaves and two fishes — in the context of great unmet need (such as the global need for palliative care) and exponentially increases it to the extent of overflow. Twelve wicker baskets full.

We can do the same in our advocacy: give everything we have, even if it seems pathetic and inadequate in the context of overwhelming suffering. Over and over again without expecting results. For some this is the definition of insanity, for others the payoff is enormous. At some point, maybe not in our lifetimes, the fruits of our labor will become apparent. Others will taste those fruits, that bread and fish! and the joy that has room to grow when their suffering is relieved by well trained palliative care teams equipped with appropriate medications, will reach to the ends of the earth. May it be so.

Author: Katherine Pettus

I am a political theorist and advocate for palliative care and palliative care medicines. I self-published the blog collection Global Palliative Care: Reports from the Peripheries to begin getting the word out about the global palliative care movement https://www.amazon.com/Global-Palliative-Care-Reports-Peripheries/dp/B089D3SC55

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