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