Background: Randomised controlled clinical trials are performed to resolve uncertainty concerning comparator interventions. Appropriate acknowledgment of uncertainty enables the concurrent achievement of two goals : the acquisition of valuable scientific knowledge and an optimum treatment choice for the patient-participant. The ethical recruitment of patients requires the presence of clinical equipoise. This involves the appropriate choice of a control intervention, particularly when unapproved drugs or innovative interventions are being evaluated.
Discussion: We argue that the choice of a control intervention should be supported by a systematic review of the relevant literature and, where necessary, solicitation of the informed beliefs of clinical experts through formal surveys and publication of the proposed trial's protocol.
Summary: When clinical equipoise is present, physicians may confidently propose trial enrollment to their eligible patients as an act of therapeutic beneficence.