Pain relief a human right, doctor argues

Unreasonable failure to treat pain is poor medicine, unethical and also an "abrogation of a fundamental right", according to Dr Frank Brennan of Sydney's Calvary Hospital in Kogarah.

Writing in Anesthesia & Analgesia, the official publication of the International Anesthesia Research Society, Dr Brennan says inadequate pain treatment is an entrenched problem around the world and is related to cultural, societal, religious, and political factors - including the acceptance of torture.

Poorly controlled pain has many and potentially serious adverse effects, both physical and psychological, as well as "massive social and economic costs to society," Dr Brennan and co-authors write.

In a special article in the July issue, Dr Brennan and his colleagues summarise the medical, legal, and ethical arguments for transforming access to pain management into a global human right, according to a statement posted on Newswise.

They say that a growing international consensus urges change in several areas toward the goal of recognising effective treatment for pain as a fundamental human right.

The authors write, "Medicine is at an inflection point, at which a coherent international consensus is emerging: the unreasonable failure to treat pain is poor medicine, unethical practice, and is an abrogation of a fundamental right."

Cancer pain is a special concern, with up to 70 per cent of cancer patients experiencing severe pain caused by their disease or its treatment.

The authors outline the "complex and overlapping" reasons for delay in recognising the ethical and legal importance of pain management, according to Newswise.

Although pain relief is clearly a core value of medical ethics, the legal foundation for a right to pain management is less clear.

Frustrated with the slow pace of change, many pain medicine professionals are promoting legislative solutions, the authors say. Some governments, notably including Australia and the state of California, have passed statutes explicitly defining the right to adequate pain management, protecting medical practitioners who treat pain in terminally ill patients, or introducing requirements for pain management and education.

Dr Brennan and his colleagues call on the United Nations to consider declaring an International Year of Pain Management, Newswise reports.

They also call on the World Health Organisation and other international bodies to create a single organisation unifying all aspects of obligation on national governments in the area of pain control.

"Much work and continuing vigilance will be required to make the transition from asserting that pain management is a fundamental human right, to a future in which appropriate pain management is a global reality," the authors conclude.

Adequate Pain Control Is A Human Right (Newswise, 26/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Palliative Care (Health Report, ABC, 19/2/07)
Pain management (Wikipedia)
Calvary Hospital

Major palliative care conference at the Vatican (CathNews, 17/3/04)
Catholic Health urges palliative care where people live (CathNews, 21/7/03)

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