Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr. yesterday gave a major boost to the fledgling but fast growing hospice movements by announcing that HEW is requesting proposals for experimental funding of the programs of humane care for the terminally ill.

At the same time Califano said he is calling for a federally sponsored hospice conference in Washington next year and has asked an assistant in his office to coordinate all federal involvement with hospice programs.

The transplanted British movement also received endorsement yesterday from both ends of the congressional political spectrum, with Sens Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) and Bob Dole (R-Kan) both calling for increased federal funding of hospice programs.

The three made their remarks in separate appearances before the first annual convention of the National Hospice Organization, a new, relatively small group whose success in drawing three such major political figures suggests its growing appeal.

Begun in Britain in the late 1940s by Cicely Saunders, the hospice concept involves a theory of care of the terminally ill based primarily upon the relief of pain so that the dying person may make fuller use of his final days.

Califano, who said he spent a day in New Haven, Conn. speaking to those involved with the New Haven Hospice, said he "went to New Haven with the idea that hospice was about dying I came away realizing that hospice is something far more: it is about living a way of living more fully and completely, embraced by human concern and support-up to, and through the end of life."

Hospices are "springing up everywhere" in this country, Saunders said in an interview yesterday. There are hospice programs being planned or under way in such diverse areas as Tuscom, Ariz, New York City and Hazzard, Ky.

"A small hospice team is growing up in the rural areas of Kentucky," said Saunders. "I was at a conference in Hayden, staying at the Frontier Nursing Service, and people came from over the mountains and we had a conference of 100 people in this funny little town of 500. There's something happening there."

While those in the movement are generally attracted by the hospice vision of humane care for dying patients, the hospice concept has another appealing side for health care planners it is less expensive than conventional care.