Sunday, July 04, 2004
Medical ethicist: Honesty isn't always the best policy.
Sokol's short piece doesn't provide much guidance for one of the more perplexing debates in medical ethics: whether it's ever ethical to prescribe a placebo for a therapeutic purpose. (Good bibliography here.) Conventional wisdom has it that the placebo effect is lost when the patient is told that she is getting a sugar pill or other inert substance, so the efficacy of the placebo depends upon deception. Sokol allows for the deception when necessary to avoid significant harm ("nonmaleficence"); would his argument also allow for deception in order to achieve a therapeutic benefit ("beneficence")? The overwhelming consensus among ethicists appears to be "no," yet the practice seems to persist among practitioners for what appears to be a variety of reasons. This piece by Gregory Loeben does a nice job of making the case against deception to produce a benefit for the patient.