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This paper analyzes the phenomenon of suffering and its relationship to medical practice by focusing on the paradigmatic work of Eric Cassell. First, it explains Cassell’s influential model of suffering. Second, it surveys various critiques of Cassell. Next it outlines the authors’ concerns with Cassell’s model: it is aggressive, obscure, and fails to capture important features of the suffering experience. Finally, the authors propose a conceptual framework to help clarify the distinctive nature of subjective patient suffering. This framework contains two necessary conditions: (1) a loss of a person’s sense of self, and (2) a negative affective experience. The authors suggest how this framework can be used in the medical encounter to promote clinician-patient communication and the relief of suffering.