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Placebo and deception: a commentary.

Research paper by Anne A Barnhill, Franklin G FG Miller

Indexed on: 17 Dec '14Published on: 17 Dec '14Published in: The Journal of medicine and philosophy



Abstract

In a recent article in this Journal, Shlomo Cohen and Haim Shapiro (2013) introduce the concept of "comparable placebo treatments" (CPTs)--placebo treatments with biological effects similar to the drugs they replace--and argue that doctors are not being deceptive when they prescribe or administer CPTs without revealing that they are placebos. We critique two of Cohen and Shapiro's primary arguments. First, Cohen and Shapiro argue that offering undisclosed placebos is not lying to the patient, but rather is making a self-fulfilling prophecy--telling a "lie" that, ideally, will become true. We argue that offering undisclosed placebos is not a "lie" but is a straightforward case of deceptively misleading the patient. Second, Cohen and Shapiro argue that offering undisclosed CPTs is not equivocation. We argue that it typically is equivocation or deception of another sort. If justifiable, undisclosed placebo use will have to be justified as a practice that is deceptive in most instances.