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When is it ethical to prescribe placebos?
Date:5/30/2012

The American Medical Association's Code of Ethics prohibits physicians from prescribing treatments that they consider to be placebos unless the patients know this and agree to take them anyway. But this policy is not clearly the best way to protect or benefit patients, concludes an The American Medical Association's Code of Ethics prohibits physicians from prescribing treatments that they consider to be placebos unless the patients know this and agree to take them anyway. But this policy is not clearly the best way to protect or benefit patients, concludes an article in the Hastings Center Report. A commentary by two AMA bioethicists responding to the article also appears in the journal.

Placebos are commonly understood to be inert treatments, such as sugar pills, that have no pharmacological effect, but the AMA defines placebos more narrowly, as therapies that a physician believes lack a specific pharmacological effect on the conditions being treated. The physician's belief may or may not align with the prevailing medical view of a treatment. "There are borderline and controversial cases, such as acupuncture and antidepressants, in which individual physicians might reasonably disagree with the medical community's consensus about whether a treatment is an active treatment or a placebo," writes Anne Barnhill, a philosopher and bioethicist who is studying social work at Columbia University.

The article cites a recent poll of American internists and rheumatologists that found that a significant number of them admit to giving patients placebos without disclosing the therapies as such. While some placebo use is patently unethical providing a treatment that "has no scientific basis and is dangerous, is calculated to deceive the patient by giving false hope, or which may cause the patien
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Contact: Michael Turton
turtonm@thehastingscenter.org
845-424-4040 x242
The Hastings Center
Source:Eurekalert

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