Pragmatic moral problems and the ethical interpretation of pediatric pain

Anna R. Young, James R. Thobaben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Biologically, pain is neither intrinsically good nor bad, but is a communication mechanism designed to serve organismal ends. Pain for any given person at any given time should be evaluated on the basis of "success" (or not) in serving those purposes. Yet, the physiological, psychological, and cultural complexity of the experience makes moral consideration of pain complicated. This is especially the case with infants in pain. The competence of the infant as a "decision maker" cannot, of course, be assumed. Even if the child "thinks" about pain, an epistemological barrier exists in that the child cannot clearly communicate about the pain experience. Furthermore, any expressions of pain from the child may be necessary for diagnosis. Just coercion criteria provide a means of evaluating when and to what extent pain in infants should be controlled under the authority of surrogate decision makers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-276
Number of pages34
JournalChristian Bioethics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Autonomy
  • Chronic pain
  • Epistemology
  • Infant pain
  • Just coercion theory
  • Lockean-Jeffersonian social contract
  • Nociception
  • Pain management
  • Parental authority
  • Pediatric pain
  • Suffering
  • Surrogate decision maker


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