The irrelevance of equipoise

J Med Philos. 2007 Mar-Apr;32(2):167-83. doi: 10.1080/03605310701255776.


It is commonly believed in research ethics that some form of equipoise is a necessary condition for justifying randomized clinical trials, that without it clinicians are violating the moral duty to do what is best for the patient. Recent criticisms have shown how complex the concept of equipoise is, but often retain the commitment to some form of equipoise for randomization to be justified. This article rejects that claim. It first asks for what one should be equally poised (scientific or clinical equipoise), then asks who should be equally poised (scientist, clinician, or subject), and finally asks why any of these players need be equally poised between treatment options. The article argues that only the subject's evaluation of the options is morally relevant and that even the subject need not be equally poised or indifferent between the options in order to volunteer for randomization. All that is needed is adequately informed, free, and unexploited consent. It concludes equipoise is irrelevant.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Research*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Patient Selection / ethics
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / ethics*
  • Uncertainty*