Ethics of Placebos

The ethics of the use of placebos is an issue that arises frequently in discussions of the ethics of complementary and alternative medicine. Critics refer to homeopathy, for example, as “merely” an elaborate placebo system. But at least some defenders argue that there’s nothing wrong with placebos. After all, placebos are famous an part because of the placebo effect. If there’s an effect there — or so the argument goes — then it’s wrong to claim that homeopathy is useless. But placebos only have an effect in a limited range of circumstances. And the use of placebos typically involves deception, which is almost always problematic in the realm of healthcare.

Here’s some stuff on ethical issues related to the use of placebos and placebo-like treatments. All links are to full-text articles.

Placebo Therapies: Are They Ethical? (by Val Jones, for Science Based Medicine)

The ethics of the placebo in clinical practice (by P Lichtenberg, U Heresco-Levy, U Nitzan, in Journal of Medical Ethics)

Is It Ethical For Doctors To Prescribe Placebo? (by Alice G. Walton, for Forbes)

Is it ethical to use a placebo? (by C. Campbell, A. K. Jainer British Journal of Psychiatry)

The Lie That Heals: The Ethics of Giving Placebos (by Howard Brody, in the Annals of Internal Medicine)

Placebo and Placebo Effects: Practical Considerations, Ethical Concerns (by James Giordano, American Family Physician)

Placebo Use in Clinical Practice (American Medical Association)

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.

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