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Medicine and Public Policy |

The Lie That Heals: The Ethics of Giving Placebos

HOWARD BRODY, M.D., Ph.D.
[+] Article and Author Information

An earlier version of this paper was presented 22 May 1981 at the Medical Ethics Institute, Society and the Professions Program, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

▸ Requests for reprints should be addressed to Howard Brody, M.D., Ph.D.; Department of Family Practice, B-100 Clinical Center, Michigan State University; East Lansing, MI 48824.


©1982 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1982;97(1):112-118. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-97-1-112
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The 170-year-long debate in the medical literature about the ethics of prescribing placebos in medical therapeutics needs to be reevaluated in light of recent placebo research and improved understanding of the placebo effect as an integral part of the doctor-patient relationship. It has traditionally been assumed that deception is an indispensible component of successful placebo use. Therefore, placebos have been attacked because they are deceptive, and defended on the grounds that the deception is illusory or that the beneficent intentions of the physician justify the deception. However, a proper understanding of the placebo effect shows that deception need play no essential role in eliciting this powerful therapeutic modality; physicians can use nondeceptive means to promote a positive placebo response in their patients.

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