Pain Relief: Ethical Issues and Catholic Teaching

  • Kevin D. O’Rourke
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 41)


When caring for a sick person, a physician seeks to cure the person by eliminating or alleviating the illness, disease or injury which causes dysfunction on the part of the patient. But the physician also assumes the responsibility to alleviate the pain which results from the original disease or injury, or from the therapy which is directed toward cure. For several centuries, physicians were more able to assuage pain than they were to remove or alleviate the source of it. In the latter half of this century remarkable progress has been made in alleviating and removing pain. Determining which medications to use, to relieve serious pain, and how much to use, is now a subspecialty in contemporary medicine (Bonica, 1990; Loeser, 1989). The use of medication to relieve pain however, gives rise to two ethical issues: 1) pain medication may impair a patient’s cognitive function, thus making it difficult for the person to prepare for death; 2) pain medication may hasten death. This presentation will study the two ethical issues in light of the teaching of the Catholic Church and explain the reasoning underlying this teaching.


Pain Relief Down Syndrome Pain Medication Moral Obligation Double Effect 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin D. O’Rourke

There are no affiliations available

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