Solidarity and compassion—prisoners as hospice volunteers in Poland

Piotr Krakowiak, Renata Deka, Anna Janowicz


Democracy in Eastern Europe arrived after a long fight with a communist regime, and the activities of medical volunteers have been developing in opposition to the existing then in Poland mentality called Homo Sovieticus. From 1981 onwards the Polish Hospice Movement there was inspired by practitioners and international experiences brought by visits of Dr. Cicely Saunders. The history of modern end-of-life care in Poland was connected to caring communities, which could be called compassionate, because of the volunteering of all hospice team members. When palliative medicine started to become a part of the national healthcare programme, the hospice movement was slowly losing its exceptional character of professionals working together with volunteers, accompanied by considerable involvement of church communities. The new way of talking about end-of-life care was proposed in XXI century, and promotion of volunteering was part of it. In Gdansk an innovative program to reintegrate prisoners into society through voluntary work with hospice patients began. Since 2008 the WHAT project was aimed at social reintegration of prisoners through voluntary activities in hospices and correctional institutions from around Poland. In June 2009 Poland was awarded a prestigious prize ‘The Crystal Scales of Justice’ by The Council of Europe for a project called Voluntary Service of the Convicted in Poland implementing an innovative form of cooperation among prisons, hospices and social welfare homes. The research involving prisoners performing hospice-palliative care volunteering indicates a diverse range of life goals from the inmates not involved in hospices. These innovative correctional programs truly help local communities and prisoners who are currently working in 40 hospices and 70 nursing homes, helping those in need. Adequately prepared inmates who proved to be effective volunteers could be an inspiration to all who want to make end-of-life care more social, more humane and a more universal duty of compassionate communities.