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ARTICLE |

The Relief of Suffering

Eric J. Cassell, MD
Arch Intern Med. 1983;143(3):522-523. doi:10.1001/archinte.1983.00350030136022.
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The relief of suffering is considered one of the primary aims of medicine. However, what suffering actually is and what physicians must do specifically to prevent or relieve it is poorly understood. Because of this, the most well-intentioned and best-trained physicians may cause suffering inadvertently in the course of treating disease and may fail to relieve suffering when that might otherwise be possible.

Suffering must be distinguished from pain or other symptoms with which it may be associated. Although physicians, patients, and the medical literature generally link pain and suffering, they are distinct phenomena. For example, patients may tolerate severe pain without considering themselves to be suffering, if they know the source of the pain, that it can be controlled, and that it will come to an end. However, even apparently minor pain or other symptoms may cause suffering if they are believed to have a dire cause (eg, a

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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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