Pain But No Gain: Pain as a Problematic and Useless Concept?

Marleen Eijkholt photo

References to the human experience of “pain” are common, but those references are often ambiguous and vague. Such ambiguity creates conceptual and practical challenges, especially in the work of clinical ethics consultation. Conceptual challenges arise, for example, from the distinction between pain and suffering. Practical challenges arise from tensions between objective and subjective components of pain, and clinical ethical challenges arise in cases like Charlie Gard’s. Here, on the one hand, the court argued that Charlie was in such extreme pain and suffering, he should be allowed to die. Alternatively, others stated that we could not truly know about the experience of his pain, and that treatment therefore should be made available. While pain is a relevant clinical problem, it is also a social construct shaped by culture, environment and gender. These distinctions however get lost in a simple “pain” reference. With several clinical ethics scenarios, Dr. Eijkholt asks if references to pain help us with anything, or if we should perhaps abandon pain as a “useless concept.”
Marleen Eijkholt, JD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine; Clinical Ethics Consultant, Spectrum Health System
Recorded March 14, 2018
Note: Technical issues arose during this event that resulted in no audio in some places. Audio begins about 8 minutes in.
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