Pharmacists and Candour About Homeopathy

If someone selling something believes that it doesn’t work, should they tell you so? Does it matter if the person doing the selling is a licensed professional, someone with advanced training and a sworn duty to promote the public good?

From the BBC: New guidance for homeopathy use

The regulatory body for pharmacists in NI [Northern Ireland] has proposed that patients be told that homeopathic products do not work, other than having a placebo effect.

The draft guidance comes following a report on homeopathy published earlier this year by the House of Commons Science committee.

It reviewed the evidence base for homeopathy and concluded that it was “not an efficacious form of treatment”….

Of course, some people believe — despite the best available evidence — that homeopathy really works. But pharmacists (being educated in the scientific evaluation of evidence) generally do not. And as professionals, they have an obligation not just to be honest with customers about that, but indeed to be candid about it.

Here is the Code of Ethics for the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland. The Code calls upon Pharmacists to “Maintain public trust and confidence in [their] profession by acting with honesty, integrity and professionalism”. That’s pretty vague, so applying it requires interpretation. And in the literature on professional ethics, the argument is usually that what we need from professionals like Pharmacists is not just old-fashioned honesty, but candour. Why? Because mere honesty really just boils down to telling the truth when someone asks you a question. And that’s a very good start, of course. But in many situations — the kinds of situations where we turn to professionals for help — we often don’t know the right question to ask. So we rely on the professionals to be candid; in other words, we rely on them to be open and forthright, and to volunteer information that they think we would want and/or need. And health products are among the most difficult for consumers to understand. So, it’s not at all surprising that the professional body in this case advised its members to be candid with the consuming public about the lack of evidence in support of homeopathy. In fact, it’s barely even commendable, given that candour about such things is a basic professional responsibility.

6 comments so far

  1. […] and has been demonstrated to be no more effective than a placebo? That’s the question being asked by Dr. Chris MacDonald over at the Business Ethics blog today: If someone selling something believes that it doesn’t work, should they tell you so? Does it […]

  2. […] Pharmacists and Candour About Homeopathy (May 2, 2010) […]

  3. […] to the points above, ethicist Dr. Chris MacDonald notes that pharmacists have an ethical obligation to not just be honest with customers about homeopathy, but to be candid about it. Just because […]

  4. […] dishonest. Further, ethicist Dr. Chris Macdonald has commented that health professionals have an ethical obligation to not just be honest with customers about homeopathy, but to be candid about it. It’s not […]

  5. […] a health professional. What’s further, an ethicist has pointed out that pharmacists have an ethical responsibility to disclose the scientific facts about homeopathy.  Selling homeopathy in pharmacies contributes to the perception that what is […]

  6. […] Pharmacists and Candour About Homeopathy May 2, 2010 […]


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