Suggestion-based operations

27.01.2021

Normally, surgeries are surgical procedures used to correct a physical alteration of the subject's body.

However, there are other types of surgeries in which the effect of suggestion is much more important than the operation itself. It's about the placebo surgeries . We are going to better understand what these approaches consist of, what is their usefulness and how effective they are for certain types of patients.

What are placebo surgeries?

Placebo surgeries are a type of surgical intervention in which the operation is totally simulated, with the exception of those elements that are essential for the patient to believe that it is real , such as the generation of a scar, sedation or all the environmental elements typical of a operating room (gowns, protective material, etc.). The goal is for the person to believe that they have undergone a real operation.

But why might we want to simulate a surgical procedure rather than perform a real one? That is where the usefulness of placebo surgeries comes into play. The placebo effect, in general, consists of an improvement in the physical or mental state of the patient after the administration of an innocuous element that he believes is indeed beneficial for his health.

Therefore, what would be generating the improvement would not be, in this case the placebo surgeries, but the expectations that the person himself would have of experiencing a positive effect after said intervention . In other words, what improves the patient's health is the suggestion generated by believing that he is undergoing an operation designed to cause a change for the better. He improves because he thinks he will improve.

Do Placebo Surgeries Work?

The first problem that we find when we talk about placebo surgeries is that it is a phenomenon that has not yet been fully studied. The reasons are obvious, and it is that due to an ethical question, it is not always possible to perform a fictitious treatment of a person, depriving him of the real intervention, to verify the usefulness of it .

Even so, some tests have been carried out that allow drawing some conclusions, always limited to the specific ailments present in these studies, so it cannot be extrapolated with security to other types of diseases. One of the most surprising cases took place in 2016, when a team from the University of Florida designed an intervention to treat a patient suffering from Parkinson's .

This operation involved the implantation of a small wire whose objective was to transmit electrical impulses to a specific area of ​​the brain. The point is that the doctors in charge of the case knew perfectly well that the application of this cable was irrelevant in physical terms to treat Parkinson's disease, but they led the patient to believe otherwise.

This placebo surgery was a success and the person quickly noticed the improvement, to the point of showing a visible reduction in their body tremors, caused by the disease . How was it possible? Due to the powerful suggestion to which he was subjected. He was so convinced that they were going to make him improve with the operation that in fact they did.

Likewise, the efficacy of placebo surgeries has been observed in patients with heart ailments. In this case the study was carried out at Imperial College London. The researchers found a group with two hundred patients suffering from myocardial ischemia. Half of them underwent the usual surgical intervention in these cases, while the other half simply pretended to perform it.

The results were surprising: both patients in the control and experimental groups experienced similar improvement . The conclusion, therefore, is that suggestion is as powerful as an actual surgical operation? Not quite. The underlying issue is that the doctors already suspected that this particular intervention was not as physically effective as originally believed.

What they were actually demonstrating was that it was not the surgery that was causing the improvement, but rather the expectations that patients had about the surgery. Therefore, when applying the placebo surgeries, the positive effect was the same as in the other cases, demonstrating that it was not necessary to carry out a real physical intervention to achieve the improvement they were looking for for the patient.

More studies on the effectiveness of these operations

But those are not the only studies that have been conducted in this regard to verify the efficacy of placebo surgeries. Another example is the one published in the journal Scientific American in 2013. This article was a meta-analysis of 79 other studies that studied the efficacy of different techniques with placebo to relieve headaches in patients.

The conclusions were equally clear. The administration of harmless pills reduced pain in 22% of the cases . The application of needles (acupuncture) in the form of placebo worked for 38% of the patients. But the most powerful solution of all those that relied on suggestion was the one involving placebo surgery, that is, a sham surgery. 58%, more than half, saw their constant migraines disappear after the operation.

Shortly after, doctors from the English universities of Cambridge and Oxford conducted a new meta-analysis, in this case on 53 studies of placebo surgeries to treat knee ailments. Almost three out of every four patients experienced some improvement when undergoing placebo surgery and also half of the total had sensations just as positive as those who were actually operated on to repair their physical alteration.

What conclusions do the experts draw? That there are certain interventions that, in light of the facts, are not as effective as believed and therefore it is shown that they are unnecessary, due to the physical risk, even if it is minimal, that any operation may involve. These could be replaced by placebo surgeries, since the suggestion about their improvement is what generates it, in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy .

However, another question arises, this time of an ethical nature. Is it correct for a doctor to deceive a patient about the treatment he is going to receive, relying solely on the effects of suggestion? This is a debate that escapes the data, but remains open for the reader's reflection.

Beyond placebo surgeries: the fraud of psychic surgery

Although all the examples that we have seen so far belong to studies carried out by prestigious universities, where medical professionals strive to achieve the best results for the health of patients, there are other techniques used by people of dubious reputation who, although they share traits with the Placebo surgeries are not the same. It is known as psychic surgery.

This type of technique emerged in the 1950s in the Philippines, although it later became popular in Brazil and even came to be practiced in the United States , always by gurus who had little as doctors. These healers claimed to be able to perform psychic surgeries, operations where they did not use scalpels, but their own bare hands and apparently extracted malignant elements from the body such as residues and even tumors.

The obviously fraudulent method became very popular as a result of television exhibitions and especially through the experience of the American comedian, Andy Kauffman, suffering from lung cancer, who thought he would improve after one of these experiences, but died shortly afterwards, as the state of his illness was devastating and suggestion had no power to change in that case.

In any case, it must be made clear that psychic surgeries and placebo surgeries are not the same . In the first case, there is clear evidence of fraud and deception for the mere benefit of the shaman, who is nothing more than a scammer. In contrast, placebo surgery is a technique that uses the psychological power of suggestion to achieve physical improvement in the patient.

In both cases lies are used, it is true. However, there is a clear difference in the intentionality of the person exercising the technique and in the person who will receive the benefit of it. For this reason, we should not apply the same category, because one is a pseudo therapy and the other is a technique that can be tremendously useful to improve the quality of life of some people who are suffering , without using their pain to achieve economic benefit. change.

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