Chronic Pain Care As a Basic Human Right

People in chronic pain deserve respect and access to treatments that make their lives better. Sadly, many patients, like those whose stories you’ve read on my blog, have been failed by the system. Fear of law enforcement and regulatory guidelines, insurance limitations, and inadequate and uncaring medical care—intertwined factors like these leave patients doomed to being left in their pain.

Today, people in pain are regularly underserved, but rarely do policy and decision makers acknowledge this. The system works poorly for them, or works too slowly, or doesn’t work at all. Certain groups within society, notably women and members of ethnic minorities, tend to be disproportionately underserved. Many of those who are receiving medical care for pain are dissatisfied with their treatment and continue to endure moderate to severe pain.

Society’s failure of those who are in pain is simply shameful. We can’t afford to have an attitude that says, “It’s regrettable, but not much can be done about it.” We can’t settle for people’s pain being left untreated or grossly undertreated. We have to see our society’s inadequate response to pain for what it is but never accept it as what must be.

The way to change this is to look upon quality pain treatment not as a privilege, but as a right.

Our country has affirmed that human beings deserve such basic protections as a right to free speech, a right to an education, and a right to a fair trial. Pain care ought to be a human right as well. Everyone who has pain should be listened to, believed, and offered the best therapy available. Payers, regulators, and health care providers should facilitate this right, not obstruct it.

At one time, it was revolutionary to think of rights such as the right of women to vote as being a human right.. Now women rightly have an equal and an unalienable right to be part of our electorate. However, it took a social movement to create this cultural transformation.  It will take another cultural transformation to establish adequate pain care as the new human right. But it’s a transformation that I believe we can, and must, accomplish.


Read my forthcoming book, “The Painful Truth,” to be released in September 2015.

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