Placebos and the UK medical research council — and the consumer perspective

Science and Engineering Ethics 10 (1):95-101 (2004)
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The UK Medical Research Council, in order to further its mission of maintaining and improving human health, supports a substantial number of clinical trials on a wide variety of medical questions; some of these trials involve the use of placebos as controls or to maintain blinding. Before providing support, proposed trials are carefully reviewed to assess scientific quality, and to determine whether a placebo is required and is ethical — in addition to ethics review by independent Research Ethics Committees. Some questions such as the choice of placebos in trials in developing countries, in surgical trials and those involving alternative medicine require consideration of additional, specific issues. Involvement of consumers in MRC work has been increasing and includes the establishment of a Consumer Liaison Group; members of this group comment on patient information leaflets for clinical trials, helping to improve patient understanding of trials and ensuring topics like placebo use are explained clearly. Views differ on the value of placebos in clinical care and on their mechanism of action; continuing research is helping to clarify the issues.



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