Tag Archives: Medicine

The ethics of placebo use in medicine

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As practitioners become a little more ‘open’ about their use of placebos, it’s time now to discuss the ethics of such use. From Glackin’s abstract:

It is widely supposed that the prescription of placebo treatments to patients for therapeutic purposes is ethically problematic on the grounds that the patient cannot give informed consent to the treatment, and is therefore deceived by the physician. This claim, I argue, rests on two confusions: one concerning the meaning of ‘informed consent’ and its relation to the information available to the patient, and another concerning the relation of body and mind. Taken together, these errors lead naturally to the conclusion that the prescription of placebos to unwitting patients is unethical. Once they are dispelled, I argue, we can see that providing ‘full’ information against a background of metaphysical confusion may make a patient less informed and that the ‘therapeutic’ goal of relieving the patient of such confusions is properly the duty of the philosopher rather than the physician. Therapeutic placebos therefore do not violate the patient’s informed consent or the ethical duties of the doctor.

The whole paper can be found here. It seems the article has stirred up something of a hornet’s nest among ‘psychopharmacologists’ – see the recommendations listed at the foot of the website.

Taking dummy pills might reduce dependence on addictive drugs

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An international expert on the “placebo effect” says with addiction and abuse of opioid prescription drugs on the rise, it may be time for doctors treating patients with chronic conditions or addictions to consider intermittently substituting substances like morphine with dummy pills.

With or without telling patients.

……

“Placebos are being used in routine medical practice now by many doctors in many circumstances, but the main goal is to reduce intake of drugs. If we are talking about narcotics and other drugs of abuse, the approach is, for example, give morphine on six consecutive days and then a placebo on the seventh day. There are three or four studies with good scientific approaches to this and in those three countries I mentioned, placebo prescribing is more common.”

Asked about the ethics of substituting pills, he said:

“If you want to reduce intake of certain drugs, why not? I think that’s perfectly ethical, but if you want to prescribe placebos so you aren’t bothered by hospital patients in the middle of the night, that’s a different situation.”

Benedetti told delegates that researchers now understand more about the psychosocial context for real drug or placebo treatment effects. Certain words spoken by the health professional (“This pill is really going to help you”), the rituals associated with treatment (such as needle injections) and other sensory experiences all influence whether patients have positive expectations of health improvement. Personality traits can be important factors in who responds to placebos; optimists are more susceptible to having a placebo response while skeptics may have a nil effect.

Full article here.

Placebos and Surgery – Again!

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Many operations are no better than placebo, says a top surgeon. Orthopaedic surgeon Ian Harris believes millions of healthcare dollars are wasted on operations that may not work.

For a doctor who’s taking a metaphorical scalpel to the operating decisions of his colleagues, it’s surprising Sydney orthopaedic surgeon Ian Harris doesn’t have a target on his forehead.

In the past few months, Harris has been spreading the seedier secrets of the surgical world, chief among them that thousands of operations commonly performed in hospitals everywhere don’t actually work.

‘The easiest way to satisfy people is to operate’

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A leading surgeon reveals how doctors perform UNNECESSARY surgery to stop patients complaining.

A surgeon has admitted to performing a number of operations that don’t yield results due to a widespread acceptance of the procedure and to avoid patient complaints.

Ian Harris, a Sydney Orthopaedic surgeon, who works at a number of hospitals including the University of NSW, said he has performed surgeries on patients that don’t work, reported theSydney Morning Herald.

In a new book, ‘Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo’, Professor Harris has noted that the only benefits some surgeries provide is the ‘placebo effect’.

Read more here.

So You Think You Know ‘Placebo’?

Placebo-Pills

It’s rare (but becoming more common) to find the placebo effect studied as a phenomenon in its own right. This carefully considered and researched article points to several perspectives …

1. There are two processes going on, the placebo and the placebo effect.
2. Placebo effects are not caused by the object (e.g. the pill) or the procedure (e.g. an injection)
3. Much of what is considered to be placebo improvement may actually be patient report of improvement, without any actual physical improvement.
4. The patient’s inaccurate perception of a successful treatment in the therapeutic environment is also influenced by:

The natural course of the disease
Concomitant treatments
The Hawthorne effect
Regression to the mean

5. The placebo effect is not “the power of positive thinking” or belief, hope, mind over matter or the mind healing the body

Which Countries Consume The Most Antidepressants?

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It’s bad news if you’re Icelandic or Australian. Over at I Fucking Love Science they point out that “the report only covered the pharmaceutical habits of “developed countries.” Also, the United States – the original “Prozac Nation” – did not feature in this particular set of data. Separate data has shown 10% of Americans are prescribed antidepressants, which would put them second on this graph. We should also note that this is per thousand people, not by the total number consumed.”

Drug companies wine, dine and *educate* doctors about the drugs they prescribe

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If a drug company treats a doctor to a nice lunch and a presentation on their newest products, is prescribing affected? Doctors generally think not, but the research evidence overwhelmingly says yes. And if these events do affect doctors’ decisions on patient care, should we be worried?

Couldn’t they just prescribe placebos? Of course not! Where’s the profit in that?