Legal and Ethical Aspects of Pain Management

Acta Med Acad. 2018 May;47(1):18-26. doi: 10.5644/ama2006-124.211.


In this manuscript we presented legal and ethical aspects of pain management. Pain is a global public health problem because the burden of acute and chronic pain is considerable and is continuously increasing. It has been postulated that pain management is a fundamental human right, and that health systems are obliged to ensure universal access to pain management services. The suggestion that pain management is a right was fuelled by ample evidence about inadequate treatment of pain. Undertreatment and underprescribing in the context of pain can potentially have serious legal consequences, including charges about negligence, elder abuse, manslaughter and euthanasia. Multiple international declarations by professional societies have outlined pain management as a core ethical duty in medicine. Therefore, healthcare professionals need to be aware of multiple facets of pain-related ethics, including appraisal of patient's decision-making capacity. The worldwide opioid crisis also calls for careful consideration of specific ethical issues. Finally, healthcare workers need to be aware of the the risks associated with promoting pain management as a human right because patients and their caretakers can mistakenly perceive that they have right to total analgesia.

Conclusion: Patients do have the right to pain management, but patient rights have limits, which may interfere with other competing rights, and also rights of their physicians. Treatment of pain must be medically, ethically and economically justified. Healthcare workers have an obligation to continuously improve their knowledge about pain management, including medical, legal and ethical aspects of pain.

Keywords: Ethics; Law; Pain; Patient-physician relationship.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Mental Competency
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Pain Management* / ethics
  • Pain*
  • Professional-Patient Relations


  • Analgesics, Opioid