Placebo: Its action and place in health research today [Book Review]

Science and Engineering Ethics 10 (1):9-13 (2004)
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The place for the placebo in human clinical research is addressed in this paper. The World Medical Association which is comprised of some 80 National Medical Associations uses much of its resources to address medical ethics and human rights issues. It adopted the Declaration of Helsinki in June 1964 which addressed the protection of individuals in clinical trials. The use of placebos assumes an important role in this document. Five Revisions of the Declaration of Helsinki have occurred and the most recent was adopted in October 2000. The provisions on placebo are now in Paragraph 29 which reads as follows:“The benefit, risks, burdens and effectiveness of a new method should be tested against those of the best current prophylactic, diagnostic and therapeutic methods. This does not exclude the use of placebo, or no treatment, in studies where no proven prophylactic, diagnostic or therapeutic methods exists.”The reactions to the newly revised version of the Declaration of Helsinki were numerous and rapid, not the least of which was the paragraph I quoted above.At the direction of the WMA Council, a small group of experts together with the WMA workgroup studied the Paragraph 29 to ensure that no ethically sound research was being restricted by the revision. The outcome was approved by the Council and later the WMA General Assembly in October 2000. This gives a note of clarification as to the appropriate use of placebos. Numerous papers and statements over the last several years have described positions very much in line with the Note of Clarification cited above



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