This note seeks to show how the current practice among medical practitioners in the United States, by treating pain retroactively after it begins, is inadequate. Administering narcotics to patients on an "as needed" basis unnecessarily prolongs pain and suffering. A more effective approach, which is advocated by the Agency for Health Care Policy & Research (AHCPR), is to treat pain preventatively rather than retroactively. The myth that pain medication is addictive, and that physicians should therefore prescribe as little pain medication as possible, is just that, a myth. Patients are suffering pain in today's hospitals and at home unnecessarily. Given today's advanced medical technology and expertise, physicians should be responsible for administering adequate pain relief. If physician-assisted suicide remains unavailable to a majority of patients to relieve them from excruciating pain, then physicians should be held legally bound to provide adequate pain relief. This note also seeks to reveal that American health care systems are lacking in critical pain management techniques. Part II explores the basic principles of pain, including the pain experience, the differences between subjective and objective pain, and the differences between chronic and acute pain. This section also discusses the fear of addiction to pain medication as well as the inadequacies in today's management of pain. Part III analyzes various alternatives to the current pain management philosophy, including the AHCPR's guideline recommendations for the treatment of pain, hospice care, and physician-assisted suicide. Finally, Part IV analyzes the recognition of legal liability on medical personnel for the failure to adequately medicate for pain, beginning with a discussion of the factors to take into consideration in recognizing a legal obligation to render adequate pain relief medication.
Note, A Proposal to Recognize a Legal Obligation on Physicians to Provide Adequate Medication to Alleviate Pain, 12 J.L. & Health 381 (1997-1998)