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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, June 18, 2001

In medical care, we need not choose pain

Medical ethicists hope last week's jury decision in favor of a dying man who claimed he was not given adequate pain medication will improve the treatment of the seriously ill.

It is a measure of the scope of the problem that the children of the man, who died of lung cancer three years ago, felt they had to sue.The jury found his California physician guilty of elder abuse for undertreatment of pain.

It's difficult if not impossible to comprehend the horror and agony of the pain faced by those with terminal cancer or AIDS until one has experienced it or cared for a seriously ill patient. But health-care surveys show the scope of the problem is staggering. Recent studies indicate 75 percent of surgery patients and 70 percent of cancer patients did not receive enough pain relief.

It also is difficult for patients to understand the dilemma sometimes faced by physicians, who may want to control and relieve pain but also fear regulators and disciplinary bodies on the lookout for narcotics abuse.

Both patients and the medical profession must recognize that treatment of pain is as important as treatment of disease. This is an issue that the health care profession must take control of through education and through professional guidelines for pain management.

And lawmakers and regulators must be enlightened enough to recognize that palliative pain treatment has a place in health care.