Ethics of Complementary Medicine


The ethical principles which apply to medicine in general also apply to complementary medicine (CM). However, the fact that CM is largely unregulated means that certain issues are of particular relevance to this area. These issues include the following: the use of ineffective procedures, the publication of misleading health claims, the misuse of titles, the lack of informed consent, the failure to monitor and report adverse effects, the nondisclosure of conflicts of interest and the fabrication of research. This article provides a brief outline of these themes.

Key Concepts:

  • Complementary medicine has to adhere to the same principles of ethics as any other type of medicine.

  • The unregulated nature of much of complementary medicine means that certain ethical issues are more relevant to complementary medicine than to other fields.

  • Despite the widespread use of complementary medicine, there has so far been relatively little attention to ethical issues in this area.

Keywords: complementary medicine; ethics; autonomy; beneficence; maleficence; justice


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Further Reading

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Shapiro R (2008) Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All. London: Harvill Secker.

Singh S and Ernst E (2008) Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. London: Bentham.

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How to Cite close
Ernst, Edzard(Sep 2012) Ethics of Complementary Medicine. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024202]