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Papers of the Week

Papers: 29 Apr 2023 - 5 May 2023

Commentary/Perspective, Ethical/Legal

Human Studies

2023 May 03

Nurs Philos


Pain cannot (just) be whatever the person says: A critique of a dogma.


Djordjevic C


McCaffery’s definition of pain has proven to be one of the most consequential in nursing and healthcare more generally. She put forward this definition in response to the persistent undertreatment of pain. However, despite raising her definition to the status of a dogma, the undertreatment remains a real problem. This essay explores the contention that McCaffery’s definition of pain elides critical aspects of it, aspects that demand consideration when treating pain. In section I, I set the stage. I discuss how McCaffery’s definition and her understanding of pain science interrelate. In section II, I raise three problems for this understanding. In section III, I argue that these problems stem from an incoherency in her definition. Finally, in section IV, I draw from hospice nursing as well as philosophy and the social sciences to redefine ‘pain’ so that an intersubjective feature of it is foregrounded. I also briefly discuss one implication this redefinition has for pain management.