noigroup logo

The ultimate pain killer?

By Timothy Cocks Philosophy of pain 20 May 2016

A Kiwi friend sent us this link a few days ago, from May 17 2016

Euthanasia may be answer to incurable pain, says pain expert

A South Island pain specialist says euthanasia should be available for some people suffering from incurable pain. 

Christchurch psychologist Dr Mark Ottley, who leads psychological pain management services at Southern Rehab, said the best medications, psychological help and palliative care did not always work for patients.

“Yes it might help a bit but not really to the extent that a patient really feels life is worth living… so in those cases and where we think the person is mentally competent and is able to weigh these decisions, their self determination should be respected, I think.”

There may be a temptation to dismiss the story as vulgar ‘click bait’, but before you do, consider this from May 16 2016:

Sex abuse victim in her 20s allowed by doctors to choose euthanasia due to ‘incurable’ PTSD

A sexual abuse victim in her 20s was allowed to go ahead with assisted suicide as she was suffering from “incurable” post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD), according to the Dutch Euthanasia Commission.

The girl had been abused between the age of five and 15. As a result of her abuse, she suffered severe anorexia, chronic depression, and hallucinations.

Doctors said her conditions were “incurable” despite some small improvements in her mental state after intensive therapy. Two years ago, they agreed to her wish to end her life.

The doctors judged her to be “totally competent” and that there was “no major depression or other mood disorder which affected her thinking”.

Discussions around euthanasia will always be ethically fraught, but the idea of euthanasia as a ‘cure’ for pain is highly disturbing to us.

Could this be an unintended consequence of seeking to make pain a disease in its own right?

We welcome your thoughts and comments below.


-Tim Cocks



  1. Hi Tim, I’m saddened and shocked by this. What is a pain expert anyway? If one can accept that pain, like any form of experience is a state of mind then ones mind can always be changed when convinced that the new information makes more sense than the old. We have little but sufficient understanding to explain pain so there is no excuse for failing the sufferer so terribly badly that they feel death is their only cure. This pain expert is obviously using the term very loosely indeed……
    London 🙁

    1. HI David, yes, very loosely. I hate to think what reading the original piece might mean to an individual suffering with persistent and debilitating pain – for some, it is easy to think that what little hope they might have had would easily be obliterated.

  2. We like to be optimistic and think that the brain can be changed, but in reality can it always? Are there times when the brain circuitry can be so damaged either by the immune system, neuropathic damage, epigenetic changes that change the ability of the DNA to function normally, or by repeated emotional or physical trauma that can produce all of the previous effects plus change neural pathways and no one will be able to put the pieces to together again? I have to admit that I have had several patients who have either attempted or were successful in their suicides and where I could not blame them for their actions. Their quality of life, level of continual discomfort, and level of function were so severely effected by the pain and the sequelae of the pain (pressure sores from vascular and skin problems from sympathetic changes in blood flow were only of one of several problems) that if I had been in their places, I might have done the same. We need to humble when facing that patient in very severe pain. I have been humbled by my inability to change the suffering of some patients no matter what or how I tried. In those situations we need to rational, compassionate, and at times listen to the patient.

  3. I am very curious about the article, Sex abuse victim in her 20s allowed by doctors to choose euthanasia due to ‘incurable’ PTSD, and it’s message to the world regarding PTSD related to CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse). I wonder so many things about this, beginning at the headline used for the article. The young woman here is now known forever as a victim and the headline heavily suggests that PTSD is incurable. I think it a tragedy for those suffering from PTSD who simply read the headline, a definite downer for anyone struggling to be free from such a seemingly relentless dis-ease. It is also extremely difficult to let go of my own ideas that this very young woman could have been saved from the grips of the idea that life was unbearable. I am sad that her pain ultimately ended her life. Hard to know without understanding all of the details, what therapies she actually participated in and if she ever had a will to live after surviving her abuse. She was a survivor until her ‘doctors’ decided to allow her to choose otherwise, a point sorely missed in this article. If pain is made to be the disease then the focus on why begins to loose importance thus euthanasia indeed becomes the greatest pain reliever. In my own humble opinion this is already in motion with pharmaceuticals, a larger topic. Back to the point I want to bring to light. It just seems that she wasn’t given much time to really give healing a chance and the fact that those who were placed “in charge” of her life deemed her struggle incurable causes me to wonder if they had an agenda all along.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Product was added to cart.