Diagnosing Human Suffering and Pain: Integrating Phenomenology in Science and Medicine

  • Smadar Bustan


This chapter shows that phenomenology may be critical to diagnose human suffering in science and medicine, significantly improving patients’ well-being, while providing a more thorough understanding and adequate management of on-going suffering in the context of chronic pain and other major illnesses. Historical and contemporary references from philosophy, medicine, and science explain why, to date, there is no golden rule or consensual definition of suffering. As a solution, the paper calls for a paradigmatic conceptual shift, explaining the fundamental principles, and how they are translated into an experimentally and clinically tested “Pain-related Suffering assessment tool,” as demonstrated by Bustan’s Fan Models. The tool is tailored for individual use for enhancing personalized care. And while reviving George Canghuilem’s important historical message about individuality in medicine, it seeks to combine impersonal knowledge and personal knowledge to improve medical science and practice.

Clinical Implications: The demand from physicians to be more attentive in assessing the suffering of their patients was introduced by Eric Cassell (1982) as one of the fundamental aims of medicine. This concern, taken into account by health professionals, is difficult to fulfill in the absence of appropriate measures. In addition, the focus on end-of-life suffering has excluded, in the vast majority of cases, patients with chronic pathologies and in particular those with chronic pain whose suffering is part of everyday life. This chapter therefore presents the conceptual shift necessary for the development and validation of a simple and effective clinical tool to diagnose suffering, allowing a more precise assessment and individualized care for chronic pain patients, applicable to other chronic illnesses.


Human suffering Pain Chronic pain Suffering assessment tool Phenomenology Experimental studies Clinical studies Philosophy and history of medicine Eric Cassell Georges Canghuilem Arthur Kleinman 



I wish to thank Javier Escartin for his kind help in revising this paper and to Simon van Rysewyk for his editing.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Smadar Bustan
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Paris DiderotInstitut Humanités, Sciences et Sociétés (IHSS)ParisFrance

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