To: House Human Services Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: Senate Bill 2166 (Treatment and Care for Pain)
Date: March 2, 2005

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports Senate Bill 2166.

We have made great strides during the last ten years in our understanding of pain, its psychological effects, its treatment, and societal and professional attitudes toward pain and pain relief. Advances in life-sustaining treatments and advocacy for assisted suicide compelled all involved to look more closely at the subject of pain, particularly the question of why pain was too often not treated.

Legal, educational, psychological, cultural, and medical factors have contributed to the problem. During recent years, we have seen all of these factors addressed. The existing law was part of this process and Senate Bill 2166 continues this effort by updating the law.

Putting this legal and medical effort in context - and to note one contributing cultural factor – we realize that churches have a part to play. A misunderstanding of the Christian teaching about suffering has sometimes contributed to our society’s hesitancy to treat pain. Christian teaching holds that people can find meaning and even peace through suffering because it joins us to Christ's redemptive suffering. Unfortunately, some have misinterpreted this teaching as equating the good that can come from suffering with pain and suffering itself and have hesitated to relieve pain under the mistaken belief that doing so would deprive a person the good that could come from suffering.

Pain, however, is not the same as redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is better understood as spiritual struggle, not the same as, or dependent upon pain. Pain, especially physical pain, is an evil which must be avoided and which people have a legitimate right to alleviate. In fact, because it can interfere with bodily peace and cognitive functioning, pain can actually prevent, rather than contribute to, any spiritual good that could come through suffering.

Senate Bill 2166 reflects a correct understanding of pain and pain treatment. Since it does not undermine or change any of the existing protections against inappropriate actions, the North Dakota Catholic Conference urges a Do Pass recommendation.