Placebo Surgery

I like reading about shamanism and medicine. In fact, most days I think they overlap a lot more than people would expect. Case and point: Placebo surgery.

“You can’t be serious,” I hear you saying. Yep. Every so often over the last 50 years they decide surgery should have the same standards as drugs, which means a double blind trial that is as similar as possible, sans the real effect or treatment. They put people under anesthetic, slice them open, look around for a few minutes, and then sew them up again.

Funny thing. Placebo do well. See this one on knee surgery, for instance. Or this one on placebo electroshock. Or this placebo hyperlink. Hilariously, the eminently serious Journal of Law and Medical Ethics published an editorial with the title, “I Need a Placebo like I Need a Hole in the Head.” That about sums it up: We are a culture in need of ritual, and it is a need that is much more acute than our need for “real” surgery or “real” drugs. We do need holes in our head.

Brian Toomey lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and is a research advisor to Tim Desmond’s excellent telephone counseling site. “My friend Tim never cuts anyone in pieces as he helps them, even pretend. He provides the skillful and caring empathy that is the thread across all medical interventions, and which does most of the heavy lifting in healing and wholeness.”

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