What it takes to defend deceptive placebo use

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2011 Sep;21(3):219-50. doi: 10.1353/ken.2011.0015.


A complete defense of deceptive placebo use must address this ethical objection: deceptive placebo use violates patient autonomy, because deceiving a patient about the placebo nature of a proposed treatment prevents her from giving informed consent to the treatment. Unfortunately, this objection isn't always recognized and clearly disambiguated from other ethical concerns. I consider how well several bioethicists who write about placebo use have responded to, or evaded, this objection. I conclude that defenders of deceptive placebo use should, following the lead of Onora O'Neill, argue that deceptive placebo use is compatible with informed consent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic / ethics*
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Deception*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics*
  • Moral Obligations
  • Patient Rights / ethics
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Placebos*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics*
  • Therapeutic Misconception


  • Placebos