Job and the stigmatization of chronic pain

Perspect Biol Med. Summer 2010;53(3):425-38. doi: 10.1353/pbm.0.0166.

Abstract

Many ethical and policy analyses of the devastating undertreatment of chronic pain leave unaddressed the role played by stigma, even though the notion that such stigma exists is well documented. This article examines the social and cultural roots of the stigma of chronic pain in American society. I document the long history of illness stigma in Western societies as a way of illustrating the power of this meaning-making construct, and I use the Book of Job as a framework for understanding the deep link between sin and suffering in the context of illness and chronic pain in the United States. Unfortunately, while illness stigma can be ameliorated, there is little evidence of such progress in the undertreatment and stigmatization of chronic pain sufferers, and I explain some of the reasons why the best evidence does not demonstrate much improvement. I conclude by sketching some recommendations for diminishing the stigmatization of the chronic pain sufferer, and warn that the focus on altering the opioid regulatory regime is unlikely to have the desired impact in reducing the suffering of millions of Americans.

MeSH terms

  • Bible*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Religion and Medicine
  • Stereotyping*