Human dignity and the ethics and aesthetics of pain and suffering

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 23 (1):75-94 (2002)
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Inasmuch as unmitigated pain and suffering areoften thought to rob human beings of theirdignity, physicians and other care providersincur a special duty to relieve pain andsuffering when they encounter it. When pain andsuffering cannot be controlled it is sometimesthought that human dignity is compromised.Death, it is sometimes argued, would bepreferred to a life without dignity.Reasoning such as this trades on certainpreconceptions of the nature of pain andsuffering, and of their relationships todignity. The purpose of this paper is to laybare these preconceptions. The duties torelieve pain and suffering are clearly mattersof moral obligation, as is the duty to respondappropriately to the dignity of other persons.However, it is argued that our understanding ofthe phenomena of pain and suffering and theirrelationships to human dignity will be expandedwhen we explore the aesthetic dimensions ofthese various concepts. On the view presentedhere the life worth living is both morally goodand aesthetically beautiful. Appropriate``suffering with'''' another can help to maintainand restore the dignity of the relationshipsinvolved, even as it preserves and enhances thedignity of patient and caregiver alike.



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