I've seen several articles claiming that Mother Teresa refused to make use of pain-killers within her hospices.

For example:

The formulary at the facility Fox visited lacked strong analgesics which he felt clearly separated Mother Teresa's approach from the hospice movement.

Criticism of Mother Teresa from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any reliable references. Is this claim true?

  • 5
    Please link to the several articles
    – Jamiec
    Oct 3, 2012 at 13:26
  • I've heard that one, a source might still be useful to make the claim more precise. I think it was from a whole book about Mother Teresa that was very critical about her, but I don't remember the author.
    – Mad Scientist
    Oct 3, 2012 at 14:38
  • 2
    @Fabian Maybe Christopher Hitchen's The Missionary Position?
    – Tacroy
    Oct 3, 2012 at 17:10
  • Plenty of examples in the wikipedia article I linked
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 3, 2012 at 19:26
  • 3
    Criticism sections of Wikipedia are awful. They almost always amount to "we (some minority) don't like this person, even though most people do, and we absolutely insist that the article contains some bad things about them". Specifically Wikipedia never insists that evidence be provided that the criticisms are true, just that someone said them. Oct 5, 2012 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


There seems to be some truth to that claim, at least there are testimonies present that criticize the lack of strong painkillers:

'There are doctors who call in from time to time but usually the sisters and volunteers (some of whom have medical knowledge) make decisions as best they can. I saw a young man who had been admitted in poor shape with high fever, and the drugs prescribed had been tetracycline and paracetamol. Later a visiting doctor diagnosed probable malaria and substituted chloroquine. Could not someone have looked at a blood film? Investigations, I was told, are seldom permissible. How about simple algorithms that might help the sisters and volunteers distinguish the curable from the incurable? Again no. Such systematic approaches are alien to the ethos of the home. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning; her rules are designed to prevent any drift towards materialism: the sisters must remain on equal terms with the poor. ... Finally, how competent are the sisters at managing pain? On a short visit, I could not judge the power of the spiritual approach, but I was disturbed to learn the formulary includes no strong analgesics. Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Teresa's approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement. I know which I prefer.'

Dr Robin Fox, editor of The Lancet, perhaps the world's leading medical journal, visited and reported on Mother Teresa's Calcutta work in 17 September 1994; cited after Christopher Hitchens

Another often quoted testimony is that of Mary London, a volunteer in Calcutta:

There's no garden, no yard even. No nothing. And I thought what is this? This is two rooms with fifty to sixty men in one, fifty to sixty women in another. They're dying. They're not being given a great deal of medical care, They're not being given painkillers really beyond aspirin and maybe if you're lucky some Brufen or something, for the sort of pain that goes with terminal cancer and the things they were dying of....

Same source, though.

  • So, it wasn't a matter of being ideologically opposed to painkillers. It was a matter of not having them, perhaps due to other priorities, or perhaps do to limited budget. But it does seem like the management of the homes weren't the best
    – Casebash
    Oct 9, 2012 at 1:29
  • 10
    Unfortunately, almost certainly it was not due to lack of cash, at least not in the 90's, since at that time hardly anyone had so much PR and donations flowing in, and painkillers (and we are not talking morphine here) are not very expensive. Personally, I think it was more of a "we never needed no bloody painkillers and we don't need them now" kind of thing.
    – January
    Oct 9, 2012 at 5:14
  • 18
    @January it's not an old-school "back in my day" sort of thing; Mother Teresa believed that pain brought one closer to the suffering of Christ and therefore interventions that would block pain or alleviate suffering were un-Godly. See the Wikipedia section on Criticisms for citations. Though to be fair, she applied this theology equally to both "patients" and sisters; everyone should suffer, including those who gave their lives for her cause, as well as herself (it's why she was so skinny).
    – Tacroy
    Oct 29, 2012 at 20:41

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