Documentary Looks at Pain Relief as Human Right

By Steve Weakley

A new documentary calls pain relief a basic human right.  That is one of the tantalizing premises of “Hippocratic,” a film about the life of one of the pioneers of palliative care in India, Dr. M.R. Rajagopal.  

For over 20 years, Rajagopal has battled conditions that cause palliative care patients in India to suffer needlessly. Despite being home to most of the world’s legally grown opium, morphine and other opioid medications are often inaccessible in India to patients dying of cancer and other chronic illnesses.   


Rajagopal points out that the Indian Narcotics Act of 1987 reduced prescriptions of opiates in his country by 94 percent in just 12 years.  Under that law, even a minor mistake in prescribing opioids could send a doctor to prison for 10 years. 

“When you torture someone for political reasons, they can sign a confession and escape.  Here, (pain patients) don’t even have that option… they can’t fight back.  It’s a very one-sided war,” says Rajagopal.

In “Hippocratic,” Rajagopal points out that medicine and the profit motive compound the lack of effective pain care.  About 80 percent of the healthcare industry in India is privatized, and when doctors prescribe opiates they often steer patients toward expensive name brand drugs, when nearly identical generics cost only pennies.  He warns against unchecked medical profits and makes a passionate plea for universal health care.

The 88-minute film is most moving in the moments where it demonstrates the power of compassion as the primary purpose of treatment.  A four-year old girl, writhing and screaming in unbearable pain, is seen reaching up and kissing Rajagopal on his forehead after he administers her medicine.

You can watch a trailer for “Hippocratic” below:

In 2014, Rajagopal won an award for extraordinary activism from Human Rights Watch, a non-profit that has done extensive work on human rights abuses and the suffering of palliative care patients worldwide.

As PNN has reported, Human Rights Watch is now investigating the treatment of chronic pain patients in the United States.

“People we interviewed who didn’t have access to appropriate medications for their pain were essentially giving testimony that was almost exactly the same as the testimony we were getting from the victims of police torture,” said Diederik Lohman, Director of Health and Human Rights for Human Rights Watch.  “People were facing tremendous suffering that actually could be relieved pretty easily through very inexpensive palliative care and pain management.”

“Hippocratic” had a limited release in U.S. theaters last month, but can still be seen in New York City, Seattle, Fresno and a handful of other cities. It can also be rented online by clicking here.