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Clinical Use of Placebos: Still the Physician's Prerogative?


  • Anne Barnhill

  • Anne Barnhill, “Clinical Use of Placebos: Still the Physician's Prerogative?”


The American Medical Association's Code of Ethics prohibits physicians from giving substances they believe are placebos to their patients unless the patient is informed of and agrees to use of the substance. Various questions surround the AMA policy, however. One of these has to do with what should be disclosed. The AMA holds that any treatment that the physician believes is a placebo should be identified as such to the patient. But consider a more restrictive policy that requires physicians to defer to the medical community's consensus view about which treatments have a specific effect on the condition being treated. In light of the ethical goals that the AMA identifies—namely, concerns about patient trust, autonomy, and benefit—there are potential advantages to the more restrictive policy.