Debilitating pain is a widespread problem that cuts across many patient populations. Despite a recognized ethical duty to relieve pain and effective pain management capabilities, health care professionals continue to undertreat pain.
Improved pain management begins with consideration of reasons pain is presently undertreated. Fear of disciplinary action is a central barrier to effective pain management. The Pain Relief Act represents an effort to mitigate this fear by preventing unnecessary investigations, protracted proceedings, and inappropriate legal sanctions for pain treatment.
This article begins by recognizing doctors’ legitimate fears of legal sanctions. While few doctors are actually penalized due to pain treatment, the threat of disciplinary action or prosecution is severe because of the substantial burdens imposed by such actions.
Next, the article explains how and why a statutory response is specially suited to promote effective pain management. On the state level, “intractable pain” statutes can clearly remove threats of adverse action, promote legal continuity, and provide an external standard by which state medical board policies and actions can be reviewed. The article then addresses the Pain Relief Act, designed to work in conjunction with state statutory frameworks to protect providers who are in substantial compliance with accepted practice guidelines. Finally, the article concludes by comparing areas in which the Act is broader or narrower than current statutes.
Johnson, Sandra H., Disciplinary Actions and Pain Relief: Analysis of the Pain Relief Act (1996). Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, Vol. 24, No. 4, p. 319, 1996.