[ExI] Subject: Re: Human extinction

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Sun Aug 24 12:43:33 UTC 2008

2008/8/24 Stefano Vaj <stefano.vaj at gmail.com>:
> On Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 6:02 AM, Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com> wrote:
>> To explain my position, I
>> have witnessed and assisted at several dozen deliveries during my
>> medical training, and in most of those, the mother was in terrible
>> pain: worse pain than I have seen in emergency departments, surgical
>> wards or cancer palliative care wards.
> One wonders how pain would be measured and compared in such different
> contexts. Might it be a misinterpretation of symptoms on the part of
> the (male) physician? Moreover, one wonders why so few women have ever
> committed suicide to stop the pain, or demanded euthanasia, and how
> more than a few refuse anesthesiac or analgesiac treatments that would
> be very poor candidates for resisting even bland torture.

Pain is in the first instance measured by the loudness of the screams
and the urgent demands for analgesia. It's true, they do sometimes
refuse analgesia despite the terrible pain, but this is the point I am
making: the same level of pain is deemed "acceptable" in one situation
but not in another. There are also instruments such as the McGill Pain
Index which rate labour pain as among the worst it is possible to
experience, as in the Textbook of Obstetric Anaesthesia excerpt I
quoted in a parallel thread.

Acute pain is fundamentally different to chronic pain in that it does
not generally lead to suicide or demands for euthanasia: the pain will
eventually stop, after all. But the pain of surgical procedures (and
for that matter, torture) is also acute and self-limited, and we don't
think it's OK to do away with anaesthetics on that basis.

> In principle, pain signals body damage in order to have the organism
> take whatever action is possible to avoid it. In the context of
> birth-giving, may it be that the "interpretation" by the woman of the
> "pain" involved ends up being different either for biological or for
> cultural reasons, even in a culture obsessed with pain and stress
> avoidance and with an average very low pain threshold?

No doubt cultural factors modulate pain threshold and the overall
distress that a given amount of pain will cause. If you have a niggle
in your stomach which you are sure is benign, it isn't going to bother
you as much as the same niggle which you suspect may be due to a
malignant process. Still, we don't expect that people will put up with
terrible pain on the grounds that they understand it is self-limited
and not likely to result in permanent damage or disability.

> Lastly, there are a few women who (allegedly) give birth without even
> realising it, and thinking they had to go to the toilet. This suggests
> that at the very least a wide range exists with regard to birth-giving
> pains...

Yes, as in any other case. Some people have surprisingly little pain
after trauma or surgery and others have a lot.

Stathis Papaioannou

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