Evidence-based evaluation of the ethics of sham surgery for Parkinson's disease Academic Article uri icon


  • The stated purpose of sham or placebo surgery is to enable the implementation of surgical placebo-controlled trials (SPTs) for evaluating the safety and efficacy of surgical interventions. Exposing the participants to the burdens and harms of sham surgery has been justified on the grounds of the absolute necessity for controlling large placebo effects and observer bias, assumed to be associated with surgical procedures. In the present review, we argue that evidence obtained from SPTs of cellular therapies for the treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD) has failed to demonstrate either large and consistent placebo effects or decisive methodological advantages for relying on sham surgical controls. We outline several alternative assessment strategies and designs available to establish the efficacy of cellular therapies. It is concluded that the evidence evaluated in the present analysis indicated that use of sham surgery in the context of developing novel surgical procedures for PD is not necessary, and therefore, unethical under a utilitarian model.

publication date

  • 2019