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Should pain relief be a human right?

Published on 30/04/18

Dr Rajesh Munglani fascinated Stephen Perse students, staff and parents alike when he gave a talk about the ethics of pain management and pain relief.

Dr Munglani is an Hon. Consultant in Pain Medicine at St Thomas Hospital London, and specialises in a wide range of pain conditions including spinal pain, cancer related pains and complex regional pain.The premise of his talk - pain relief as a human right - was a complex one.

“I found it really interesting because it raised interesting points about how hard it is to decide whether pain relief is a human right as there are very valid points for both sides of the argument. I thoroughly  enjoyed the talk and it has taught me a lot about the morals of pain relief.”

Nika K, 9A

The presence of pain could be seen to be vital to our existence and a sense of danger that may be causing us bodily harm. Pain relief in itself isn't seen as a fundamental right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the European Human Rights Convention. However, we can't feel another person's pain, and failure to treat pain could be seen as negligence legally. 

Dr Munglani then explored the premise that the relief of suffering is more important than the relief of pain. He raised an interesting question about the concept of suffering in Buddhism, which is about detachment from pain.

This led us to the question, 'is pain a physical or emotional response?'. Dr Munglani explored fibromyalgia, a physical pain condition coming from an emotional/neurological problem, challenging us to consider whether we should deal with the physical pain or with the neurological condition. He also explained that physical pain can be more complex and common in those who have had trauma such as abuse. 

"Dr Munglani ... gave us many sides to the debate ‘should pain relief be a human right?’. I found it interesting because it raised points about modern day ethics and challenged us to view situations from different perspective. It has helped me appreciate the complexity of medical and philosophical debates, forming my own opinion."

Mila R 10S

Students asked questions on medical ethics, how Buddhism and the philosophy of suffering impacts on pain theory, and about the right to die for patients. We were told that 20% of the NHS budget is spent on the last three months of a person's life, and we explored the moral questions of budget spending in a stretched NHS - how should this be allocated going forward?

It was a most engaging and morally questioning presentation, and we are very grateful to Dr Munglani for taking the time to talk to us. 

If you'd like to find out more about Dr Munglani, you can visit his website

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