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The Prescribing of Placebos

A new study involving 679 American doctors reports that half of them prescribe placebos to patients according to a New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/24/health/24placebo.html?_r=1&ref=health&oref=slogin

In a way this helps with medical costs, but at the same time I think the ethics are a bit shaky. Is it really ok to deceive patients? That is a big ethical challenge, especially with so many unanswered questions. Such as in a clinical setting will the placebos work better? Will they have the same effect if the patient knows like when the 5 percent of doctors tell the patient what they are prescribing to them?

The American Medical Associaton states that “in the clinical setting, the use of a placebo without the patient’s knowledge may undermine trust, compromise the patient-physician relationship and result in medical harm to the patient.

This practice hurts our trust in our doctor and makes me a little more worried about the health care community. What do you think?


I definitely agree that the use of placebos in the clinical setting is unethical. Patients should know exactly what they are being prescribed. The exception would be when a patient has agreed to be in a study where they have knowledge that they may be receiving a placebo. At least in that case the patient has consented to the study and whatever treatment comes with it.

Giving out placebos in the clinical setting just has too many risks. Their are definitely people who only need a placebo, but the risk is too great that someone who really needs a medication will be given a placebo and then dire consequences will result.