A Conceptual and Moral Analysis of Suffering

Nursing Ethics 16 (2):173-183 (2009)
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Abstract

This analysis presents an epistemological and moral examination of suffering. It addresses the specific questions: (1) What is suffering? (2) Can one's suffering be assessed by another? and (3) What is the moral significance of suffering? The epistemological analysis is orientated by Peter Hacker's framework for the investigation of emotions, demonstrating that suffering is an emotion. This leads to a discussion of whether suffering is a phenomenon that can be evaluated objectively by another person who is not experiencing the suffering, questioning the validity of some decisional models for limiting life-sustaining therapies with the aim of preventing suffering. This analysis highlights that understandings of suffering are value laden. It is conventionally implied that suffering is `bad' and that it should be eliminated. Suffering is commonly regarded as a moral wrong that needs to be made right by health care. This article concludes with a recommendation for a paradigm shift in how suffering can be better understood, through the practice of empathic attunement

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