Thursday, May 13, 2010

What if placebos are actually effective?

Should we make use of them outside of experiments?

Or would using fake treatments be unscientific and unethical?

But wouldn't the really unscientific thing be to rule out the possibility of using a remedy that has been empirically shown to work? And wouldn't the really unethical thing be to withhold a remedy that could help people?

Also, isn't it begging the question to say we shouldn't use them because they're "fake"? If they became widely accepted, wouldn't they be "real" by definition?

I also wonder if objections to placebos are based on a gut feeling that a remedy that operates psychologically is somehow less valid than one that operates physically. This distinction itself would seem to be unscientific, since the enlightened view is supposed to be that what happens in the mind is actually physical (specifically, brain states), right? But even if you're a dualist and don't equate the mind with the body, I still don't know why we should privilege the physical over the mental.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I've read that many doctors already give placebos to some of their patients when appropriate. The trick is, the patient shouldn't know. (Though I've read that sometimes it works even when the patient knows! Some of us will consciously improve under a placebo in order to please our doctors.) And if a "real" medication is actually a placebo, as some people believe antidepressants to be, what's the harm?

John Althouse Cohen said...

There's a lot in the article about how placebos can be effective even if the patients know they're placebos.

Meade said...

It could lead to sham side effects.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I think our government depends on the placebo effect much of the time. A lot of its actions are only meant to make people feel better, without curing the problems they are prescribed for. Politicians know this, but act like the solution has been solved so they can stay in office.

There's an ethics problem for you; holding back medicine because the side effects hurt the doctor!