Human Dignity and the Ethics and Aesthetics of Pain and Suffering
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2002; 23(1): 75-94
Inasmuch as unmitigated pain and suffering are often thought to rob human beings of their dignity, physicians and other care providers incur a special duty to relieve pain and suffering when they encounter it. When pain and suffering cannot be controlled it is sometimes thought that human dignity is compromised. Death, it is sometimes argued, would be preferred to a life without dignity. Reasoning such as this trades on certain preconceptions of the nature of pain and suffering, and of their relationships to dignity. The purpose of this paper is to lay bare these preconceptions. The duties to relieve pain and suffering are clearly matters of moral obligation, as is the duty to respond appropriately to the dignity of other persons. However, it is argued that our understanding of the phenomena of pain and suffering and their relationships to human dignity will be expanded when we explore the aesthetic dimensions of these various concepts. On the view presented here the life worth living is both morally good and aesthetically beautiful. Appropriate "suffering with" another can help to maintain and restore the dignity of the relationships involved, even as it preserves and enhances the dignity of patient and caregiver alike.
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