The Attitudes of Patients and Physicians Towards Placebo Treatment: A Comparative Study
Social Science and Medicine. 1993 Mar; 36(6): 767-774.
Placebo treatment in clinical practice can be given either in order to comply with the wishes of the patient, or with the purpose of doing good and not causing harm. In the former instance, the procedure may be in accordance with the interests of the patient, yet be in conflict with the interests of the medical profession. In the latter instance, the procedure presupposes that in most cases the patient has not been informed of the nature of the treatment; this type of procedure may jeopardize a trusting patient-doctor relationship. Therefore, it is of interest to investigate both the extent to which patients and physicians feel they can accept placebo treatment and a paternalistic attitude, and in which particular situations. In order to shed some light on this matter, we compiled a questionnaire built around three case histories which problematize placebo treatment and paternalistic acts. The questionnaire was distributed to 100 patients and 100 physicians. 83 patients and 94 physicians responded. The results show that patients and physicians do not automatically follow specific group interest. Physicians are more inclined to respect the patient's option to refuse medical treatment than the patients are inclined to respect a physician's professional autonomy. Patients appear more to be paternalistic in their judgements than physicians, but one cannot rule out the possibility that the answers of the physicians reflect the fact that placebo treatment represents a socially undesirable behaviour. We conclude that theoretical and normative analyses of the perspective of the actors ought to be supplemented by empirical research. More studies of a qualitative approach are needed in order to validate our results and to illuminate inconsistent responses and the ethical principles which lie behind particular judgements.
Alternative Therapies; Attitudes; Autonomy; Cancer; Case Studies; Coercion; Comparative Studies; Consent; Deception; Decision Making; Disclosure; Drugs; Empirical Research; Harm; Informed Consent; Nature; Paternalism; Patient Care; Patient Participation; Patients; Physician Patient Relationship; Physicians; Placebos; Professional Autonomy; Professional Patient Relationship; Qualitative Research; Research; Survey; Terminally Ill; Treatment Refusal; Trust;
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