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Palliative medicine - "The cloak of medicine"

(Vienna, 5 May 2010) With the only Professorship of Palliative Medicine in Austria, MedUni Vienna has, since 2007, had a chair in a very new field of research which does not only have high requirements in terms of ethics.

"Palliative care", also called "palliative medicine", is still a relatively new field of research which MedUni Vienna was already taking into consideration back in 2007 with the creation of a Professorship of Palliative Medicine. Originally set up by the renowned August Dreher Foundation, the professorship is now funded by the Medical University of Vienna itself. The holder of this chair - which is unique in the whole of Austria - is Univ. Prof. Dr. Herbert Watzke, who in his inaugural lecture will be able to show the first noteworthy successes of studies in this sensitive and ethically challenging discipline.

One finding relates to the effect on the quality of life of patients with information about their condition. Patients whose wishes and fears are discussed with them at an early point of their incurable disease have a much better quality of life in their final stages. "The quality of the process of dying is also much better and the costs of care in the last weeks of the patients' life are only half as high when such talks are held," says Univ. Prof. Dr. Herbert Watzke.
One of the major challenges in clinical trials is to generalise the highly individual approach to the patients and the particular courses of their diseases in order to create comparable parameters for palliative medicine. "Like in all other specialist medical fields, the Helsinki Declaration with its directives for carrying out clinical trials is also the binding document for palliative care, however," explains Herbert Watzke. "Palliative patients are considered as being in particular need of protection but can also take part in clinical trials if the strict regulations are adhered to."

Nationwide care for palliative patients demanded
As well as these scientific tasks, Watzke also mainly sees "lobbying activities" for palliative medicine in Austria as his central responsibility, however. "One of my goals is to provide palliative patients with corresponding care throughout the country," explains the palliative medicine specialist. So the expansion of palliative medicine in Austria is well below the target despite agreement among the parliamentary parties. At the same time there also needs to be considerable scientific improvement of this specialist area. "This is the only way to ensure that, at the end of their lives, patients with diseases in very advanced stages are provided with care and treatment in such a way which respects human dignity and is aimed at maintaining the quality of life in all its dimensions," Watzke says to conclude.

Says MedUni Vienna's Rector Wolfgang Schütz: "Palliative medicine is a very important issue which is going to become increasingly significant in our society in the future. So MedUni Vienna is also paying corresponding attention to research and teaching in this field in order to provide timely answers for those affected and also doctors in this still largely unknown discipline."