«Cancer patients have the right of being recognized as invalid for what regards their pathology, and this status allows them to obtain the free therapies and drugs they need»
Cancer is a debilitating disease with serious consequences for patients and their families; this is why people who suffer from it have access to rights dedicated to them. It is of utmost importance that already weakened patients are entitled to priority medical and economical help. Luana Sciamanna, Italian criminal lawyer, focuses especially on violence, psychological abuse and rights for cancer patients, and explains what help programs can be accessed by Italian cancer patients.
The rights for Italian cancer patients
«First things first, cancer patients have the right of being recognized as invalid for what regards their pathology, and this status allows them to obtain the free therapies and drugs they need» Sciamanna explains. Disability can either be partial or total, depending on the tumour gravity and on the secondary complications it carries. Beyond therapy, the NHS also guarantees compensation for the medical equipment patients need, such as wheelchairs and braces. In both cases, the State grants them a disability allowance. To be eligible for it, however, patients must have been part of the INPS (Italian Social Security) for at least 5 years and must have paid taxes for at least 3 years.
Disability often prevents people from moving autonomously, and for this reason cancer patients are entitled to home healthcare. «After being released from the hospital, patients can ask the Local Health Service to get home healthcare assistance in order to help them stick with the therapies they have been given by doctors» Sciamanna explains. Furthermore, Regioni can offer transfers to and from hospitals and clinics, and issue the disability parking card.
Even with all these benefits, fighting cancer alone is hard and sometimes impossible. The Italian law provides for additional rights to caregivers and relatives of cancer patients. «Relatives have access to special permits, up to 3 days per month to assist their ill family member» Sciamanna confirms. «When it comes to parents having to assist their ill kid, then they can ask for a special paid compassionate leave» she says, highlighting that this leave can be asked only during the acute phase of the disease.
Employment and cancer patients
Employees that face cancer have benefits that can help them in their daily activities, to ease their condition. «If there is a state of disability, patients are entitled to special paid leaves, up to 2 hours per day and 3 days per month». Plus, they have the right to be employed in positions that do not require heavy physical labour.
In case of long recoveries, patients may be entitled to paid leave. If recovery is longer than expected, they may opt to save their job with an unpaid leave period. «Alternatively, patients may choose to work part-time temporarily, until health conditions improve. It is an importat solution as reducing working hours is important to guarantee a better recovery».
For VAT holders the situation is more complex and they offer less benefits for cancer patients. «In this case, the rights differ and are left to interpretation» Sciamanna says. «Professional figures such as attorneys and medical doctors, for example, are not part of the INPS, the national tax service, but have their own professional orders for that. Each order has their own benefits».
Cancer patients rights and women
All these rights for cancer patients are made for every citizen, however for social and structural reasons they are harder to obtain for women. «It is important to understand that women struggle to see these rights accorded to them» Sciamanna says. «Often, women are forced to take on jobs that are below their qualifications, or that are not inherent at all with their studies. At times they must perform undeclared work because they may have to economically sustain the family at all costs, and this prevents them from accessing many benefits as these jobs are not taxed».
«We are currently doing an awareness campaign, as the first step towards equality is making women understand that these unfavourable conditions stop them from achieving what they desire» Sciamanna continues. «Women are those that have to care for the house, for the kids, and consequently they are expected to sacrifice their professional life in order to perform these duties».
If cancer is also accompanied by domestic abuse, then gender disequality is an even more serious problem. «We know well that ill people are more fragile. This influences women’s choices, that are less prone to escape and report these toxic dynamics» she says. Luckily, the Italian law tends to favour the weakest family member if they manage to denounce the abuse. Many anti-violence centres support women without imposing the “correct choices” but by simply helping them in whatever difficulty they are in. «Always ask lawyers before making any choice, and always ask for help in anti-violence centres» Sciamanna concludes, stating that the correct way to guarantee the best rights and support to cancer patients of every gender is still long.