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Covert administration of medication in food: a worthwhile moral gamble?


The covert administration of medication occurs with incapacitated patients without their knowledge, involving some form of deliberate deception in disguising or hiding the medication. Covert medication in food is a relatively common practice globally, including in institutional and homecare contexts. Until recently, it has received little attention in the bioethics literature, and there are few laws or rules governing the practice. In this paper, we discuss significant, but often overlooked, ethical issues related to covert medication in food. We emphasise the variety of ways in which eating has ethical importance, highlighting what is at risk if covert administration of medication in food is discovered. For example, losing trust in feeders and food due to covert medication may risk important opportunities for identity maintenance in contexts where identity is already unstable. Since therapeutic relationships may be jeopardised by a patient’s discovery that caregivers had secretly put medications in their food, this practice can result in an ongoing deception loop. While there may be circumstances in which covert medication is ethically justified, given a lack of suitable alternatives, we argue that in any particular case this practice should be continually re-evaluated in light of the building moral costs to the relational agent over time.

  • clinical ethics
  • feminism
  • mentally ill and disabled persons
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