In this article we explore the ethics of manipulating verbal information for the sake of influencing health outcomes through placebo and nocebo responses. Recent scientific research on placebo and nocebo effects has drawn attention to the ways in which communication by health professionals may modulate the symptoms of patients across an array of highly prevalent conditions such as pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, and Parkinson’s disease. The positive and negative effects of clinicians’ communication on patient outcomes pose important ethical issues, which we describe in this article under the label of “the ethics of therapeutic communication” (TC). We begin by reviewing available evidence supporting the claim that doctor–patient communication has therapeutic effects. We then identify in truthfulness, helpfulness, and pragmatism three morally relevant considerations that can guide clinicians in therapeutic communication with their patients. Finally, we examine the ethics of using TC to enhance the effectiveness of proven medical interventions and open-label placebos.


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pp. 79-103
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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