The U.S. is abuzz with chatter about Oprah for President. She makes a thoughtful, rousing, captivating speech at the Golden Globe Awards and people are ready to usher her into the Oval Office. But let’s not fling that door open quite yet, not before taking a look at the candidate’s ability to exercise sound judgement. Although there are several instances I could point out where Oprah’s judgement was suspect, her having devoted a program to the antics of “John of God” is particularly troublesome.
We are talking about a Brazilian” healer” who has no education of any type and treats breast cancer by sticking a pair of surgical forceps up the patient’s nose. He claims to be guided in this work by the spirit of dead physicians, who obviously missed a couple of classes in medical school. John of God says that the success of his treatment hinges on the patient abstaining from drinking alcohol, eating pork and having sex for forty days after treatment. He treats other conditions as well. Nervous disorders require the scraping of eyeballs!
Sometimes he just walks into a room full of ailing people from around the world who have made the pilgrimage to the town of Abadiana in Brazil and declares: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are healed!” Does anyone check if any have really been healed? No. Is there any evidence that shoving a surgical clamp up someone’s nose heals them of cancer? Of course not! Actually, that’s an old carnival trick usually done with a long nail. There is a roughly four inch long passage up through the nasal cavity that is quite ready to accommodate a foreign object without any harm. But why on earth would anybody think that performing such a stunt can cure disease?
Is John of God just a self-delusional simpleton who doesn’t understand anything about adrenalin rushes, the placebo effect or the ups and downs of many diseases, or is he a calculating fraud artist? The “psychic surgery” he performs, extracting “tissue” from patients through a superficial cut he makes, smacks of a classic sleight of hand magic trick. And reporters have made a big deal of the fact that these cuts don’t get infected. Most such superficial cuts don’t. No miracle there. In fact, no miracles anywhere. There is just no evidence that any unusual healing has been going on.
So why do people spend thousands of dollars to travel to Brazil to be poked, prodded and scraped? Because they are desperate and desperate people do desperate things. And many will provide alluring accounts of benefits. Why? As Benjamin Franklin said, “There are no greater liars than quacks-except for their patients.” Nobody wants to admit that they were swindled by some peasant who put tweezers up their nose. It is more comforting to believe that they were helped. But what about the ones who gave up conventional care to go this route because they believed it would be more effective? Like South African singer Lisa Melman who refused breast cancer surgery to be treated by John and appeared on Oprah’s program promoting the talents of this “healer.” Sad ending. Lisa died of breast cancer.
Oprah Winfrey is a highly intelligent woman with a plethora of admirable qualities that may indeed put her on a political path, but having given fraud artists a pedestal does raise some concerns.
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