IFHHRO Position Statement on Access to Adequate Pain Treatment

April 5, 2011


IFHHRO is pleased to share with you the Position Statement on Access to Adequate Pain Treatment.

This text is the result of several rounds of consultations with medical and nursing organisations worldwide, human rights organisations, and organisations of pain and palliative care specialists. A resolution based on this position statement has been endorsed by the British Medical Association (BMA). The BMA has submitted the text to the World Medical Association for consideration to be adopted as a policy.

Denial of pain relief

Access to adequate pain treatment is one of the three topics addressed by IFHHRO and other partners in the Campaign to Stop Torture in Health Care. This campaign was formally launched on March 29th 2011. IFHHRO views the denial of pain relief for palliative care and other essential medical purposes as a form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which affects millions of patients with life-limiting illness worldwide.

Although not acting out of malice, health workers and policy-makers restrict access to pain relief for inappropriate reasons such as exaggerated fears of addiction, failure to educate or train physicians in palliative care, arbitrary regulations on morphine-derived substances, government’s failure to submit appropriate estimates of required opioids with the International Narcotics Control Board, and preoccupation with drug control rather than concern for people with pain. Sometimes these reasons are based on discrimination, as when people with a history of drug addiction are denied pain relief (including for surgical anesthesia) out of fears they will resume dependence on illicit opioids.

Obligation of governments 

It is the obligation of governments not to place health providers in situations where they have no real choice but to deny patients relief from severe pain. The alternative to consigning patients with life-limiting illness to such excruciating pain is to remove legal and regulatory obstacles to opioids for medical purposes, to provide them with comprehensive palliative care services that address their full range of medical, psychological, and other needs, and to train providers in the appropriate care of people in severe pain.

Download the position statements (PDFs):

English | French | Spanish | Russian