"Comparable placebo treatment" and the ethics of deception

Shlomo Cohen, Haim Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research, especially with functional brain imaging, demonstrated cases where the administration of a placebo produces objective effects in tissues that are indistinguishable from those of the real therapeutic agents. This phenomenon has been shown in treatments of pain, depression, Parkinsonism, and more. Tloe main ethical complaint against placebo treatment is that it is a kind of deception, where supposedly we substitute what works just psychologically for a real drug that actually works on the tissue level. We claim that the scientific findings bring to a new level the seeming deconstruction of the distinction between 'placebo" and "real" drugs, and that instances of placebo treatment which fulfill this criterion should be recognized as a unique category-we call it "comparable placebo treatment" (CPT). Tloe paper uses an analysis of the notion of deception to argue that CPT does not amount to deception; that it can preserve patient autonomy; and that it is therefore morally legitimate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)696-709
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Autonomy
  • Deception
  • Ethics
  • Irony
  • Placebo treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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