Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 43–50

The use of the placebo effect in clinical medicine — ethical blunder or ethical imperative?


DOI: 10.1007/s11948-004-0061-1

Cite this article as:
Biller-Andorno, N. SCI ENG ETHICS (2004) 10: 43. doi:10.1007/s11948-004-0061-1


The current debate in medical ethics on placebos focuses mainly on their use in health research. Whereas this is certainly an important topic the discussion tends to overlook another longstanding but nevertheless highly relevant question, namely if and how the placebo effect should be employed in clinical practice. This paper describes the way the placebo effect is perceived in modern medicine and offers some historical reflections on how these perceptions have developed; discusses elements of a definition of the placebo effect; and suggests some conditions under which making use of the therapeutic potential of the placebo effect can be ethically acceptable, if not warranted.


placebo effectplaceboclinical ethicsmedical historyphysician-patient-relationshipsham surgery

Copyright information

© Opragen Publications 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Abt. für Ethik und Geschichte der MedizinUniversität GöttingenGöttingenGermany