Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pain Relief: A Human Right?

The following text is adapted from a video address by McGill University medical ethicist Margaret Somerville to the International Association for the Study of Pain congress in Montreal. The final event of the congress was the International Pain Summit at which the Declaration of Montreal was to be presented and discussed. The declaration states that access to pain management is a fundamental human right.

Many of us involved in trying to ensure people who require pain management get what they need have personal experiences involving pain in our background. That's true for me. I can remember as an 11-year-old, with life-threatening peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, consciously wanting to die because the pain was so severe.

In 1983, my father was terminally ill with prostate cancer that had metastasized to his bones. I was telephoned in Montreal and told he was about to die, so I jumped on a plane to Australia.

I found my father in a university teaching hospital in horrible pain. I created a huge fuss and managed to get a pain specialist to see him -- in fact, that specialist was Dr Michael Cousins, who has piloted the development of this declaration we are considering. My father's pain was brought under control and, as it turned out, he lived another nine months.

Dad said to me, "I want to live as long as I can, Margo, but I don't want to live if it means such terrible pain. It's great what you did for me, but not everyone has a daughter who can 'go berserk' to get them the pain relief they need. You have to do something to help other people in pain." That was the start of my research on ethical and legal aspects of access to pain relief treatment.

Read it all here.

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