World and Nation

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Study Finds Many Doctors Often Prescribe Placebos

Half of all American doctors responding to a nationwide survey say they regularly prescribe placebos to patients. The results trouble medical ethicists, who say more research is needed to determine whether doctors must deceive patients in order for placebos to work.

The study involved 679 internists and rheumatologists chosen randomly from a national list of such doctors. In response to three questions included as part of the larger survey, about half reported recommending placebos regularly. Surveys in Denmark, Israel, Britain, Sweden and New Zealand have found like results.

The most common placebos the American doctors reported using were headache pills and vitamins, but a significant number also reported prescribing antibiotics and sedatives. Although these drugs, contrary to the usual definition of placebos, are not inert, doctors reported using them for their effect on patients’ psyches, not their bodies.

In most cases, doctors who recommended placebos described them to patients as “a medicine not typically used for your condition but might benefit you,” the survey found. Only 5 percent described the treatment to patients as “a placebo.”

Chinese Activist Wins E.U. Human Rights Prize

Hu Jia, a soft-spoken, bespectacled advocate for democracy and human rights in China, was awarded Europe’s most prestigious human rights prize on Thursday. The award was a pointed rebuke of China’s ruling Communist Party that comes as European leaders are arriving in Beijing for a weekend summit.

Hu, 35, was chosen by the European Parliament as this year’s recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, despite warnings from Beijing that his selection would harm relations with the European Union.

Last year, Hu testified via video link before a hearing of the European Parliament about China’s human rights situation. Weeks later, Hu was jailed and later sentenced to three and a half years in prison on a conviction for subversion based on his critical writings about Communist Party rule.

Hu has been one of China’s leading figures on a range of human rights issues, while also speaking out on behalf of AIDS sufferers and for environmental protection. His selection for the prize comes after he had been considered a frontrunner for the Nobel Peace Prize, only to lose to the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari.