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Refractory Pain, Existential Suffering, and Palliative Care: Releasing an Unbearable Lightness of Being

64 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2011  

George P. Smith II

Catholic University of America (CUA) - Columbus School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2011

Abstract

Since the beginning of the hospice movement in 1967, “total pain management” has been the declared goal of hospice care. Palliating the whole person’s physical, psycho-social, and spiritual states or conditions is central to managing the pain which induces suffering. At the end-stage of life, an inextricable component of the ethics of adjusted care requires recognition of a fundamental right to avoid cruel and unusual suffering from terminal illness. This Article urges wider consideration and use of terminal sedation, or sedation until death, as an efficacious palliative treatment and as a reasonable medical procedure in order to safeguard the “right” to a dignified death.

Once the state establishes a human right to avoid refractory pain of whatever nature in end-stage illness, a co-ordinate responsibility must be assumed by health care providers to make medical judgments consistent with preserving the best interests of a patient’s quality of life by alleviating suffering. The principle of medical futility is the preferred construct for implementing this professional responsibility.

Rather than continue to be mired in the vexations quagmire of the doctrine of double effect – all in an effort to “test” whether end-stage decisions by health care providers are licit or illicit – a relatively simple test of proportionality, or cost-benefit analysis, is proffered. Imbedded, necessarily, in this equation is the humane virtue of compassion, charity, mercy or agape.

Suggested Citation

Smith, George P., Refractory Pain, Existential Suffering, and Palliative Care: Releasing an Unbearable Lightness of Being (March 1, 2011). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 469-532, 2011; CUA Columbus School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-7. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1804326

George P. Smith II (Contact Author)

Catholic University of America (CUA) - Columbus School of Law ( email )

3600 John McCormack Rd., NE
Washington, DC 20064
United States

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