Dying with Dignity: Dissecting Palliative Care for Existential Pain

21 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2008

Date Written: June 2007


Existential pain, is a term of dubious meaning. Its use to justify palliative care for the dying is problematic. Physical pain may require medical ameliorative intervention to assist healing: but this itself raises questions as to the purpose of suffering. Non-physical pain, associated as it must be with the non-physical individual body, raises non-medical questions. Here the realms of religion, law and medicine intersect. Every person hopes to die with dignity - but dignity has never been associated of necessity with an absence of pain. Dignity relates to self-recognition, and acceptance of that by others. The human struggle to cope with the vicissitudes of life has endless permutations. To deny, and to encourage the denial by, the individual of her capacity to cope with and to attempt to understand reality of either physical pain or mental distress is to rob that person of her dignity. To intervene with "palliative" care in cases of "existentia" pain misapplies medicine, since there is no physical disease which may be treated, let alone alleviated. It could be seen as contributing to deprivation of liberty, as the facilitation of death, and in some cases, assisting a suicide, wrongful death, manslaughter or murder. Death is not a medical condition.

Keywords: medical law, religion, death, palliative care, existential pain, law and death

JEL Classification: I19, K10, Z00

Suggested Citation

Kelly, Margaret R.L.L., Dying with Dignity: Dissecting Palliative Care for Existential Pain (June 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1147389 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1147389

Margaret R.L.L. Kelly (Contact Author)

Macquarie Law School ( email )

Macquarie University
Balaclava Road, North Ryde NSW, 2109, Australia
Sydney, New South Wales 2109

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.mq.edu.au/html/staff/kellym.htm

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