Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Faith healers: Are they for real?

Alfred Bessette, known to the faithful as Brother André, lived out his humble life in Montréal during the second half of the last century, where he developed a remarkable reputation for ‘miraculous’ healing. Although he denied any such personal powers by attributing the supposed healing to St Joseph, pilgrims soon flocked to Montréal to seek him out. The chapel he built on Mount Royal (now the site of the St Joseph Basilica) soon became the home of thousands of canes and crutches, left by the devoted after they were apparently cured.

But were they actually cured? More importantly, were they actually disabled in the first place? These two questions are the gist of this article.

The Roman Catholic Church takes the claims of miracles quite seriously; the foundation of their doctrine rests on miraculous events. They even have a special commission set up during the canonization process of saints designed to assess the validity of miracles.

These miracles closely resemble the ‘altar call’ healing that America’s evangelist movement is infamous for, where the sick are magically cured through the power of the Holy Spirit. Compellingly, these desperate cases rise from their wheelchairs, praising God and making a very convincing show for the faithful present.

Unfortunately, many of the ‘healed’ still require their wheelchairs and canes after the adrenaline of the ‘altar call’ has faded. In an investigation into the faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman, most of the miracles disappeared after the fact. All of those who claimed that Kuhlman cured their cancer continued to have the disease, and in at least two cases, the cured actually died shortly after visiting the healer. Faith healing has similarly abysmal records in supposedly healing amputees, who are obviously beyond God’s apparent omnipotence and benevolence.

The Amazing Randi, a legendary skeptic and ‘debunker’ who took down faith healer Peter Popoff, suspects that faith healing has more to do with (unintentional) self deception and ignorance about how the body works, otherwise known as the placebo effect. The power of the mind in alleviating pain and suffering is well documented, but the placebo effect is most strongly observed when the patient has strong expectations and conditioning.

For the evangelical faith healers of the world, they prime their targets with bright lights, dramatic dialogue and authoritative assertions about the power of prayer, then tell them they are cured in front of thousands of people. The adrenaline rush one would naturally get from this situation could easily be mistaken for a cure under the spotlights, but there is no miracle in the neurochemicals of the brain.
With respect to Brother Andre’s basilica in Montréal, the faithful are primed first with a gruelling 200+ step climb on their knees. I once walked those steps and I can assure you, the exhaustion and relief you get upon reaching the top is anything but divine. Breathing heavily and lightheaded from the climb, the faithful then descend into a dark room of thousands of canes and crutches, surrounded by candles and incense, and are told that they are in the presence of a miraculous healing power. With adrenaline still coursing through their veins and with the expectation that they will be cured, the placebo effect takes over and many devotees begin to feel that they have been cured. I strongly suspect that these pilgrims were soon feeling disabled again and in need of more crutches in the near future.
As for faith healer’s claims of miraculous recovery from cancer and other severe illness, the obvious world of statistics combined with the healing power of modern medicine is ignored.

Antony Thomas during his HBO documentary; A Question of Miracles described a woman who was suffering from lung cancer. She so wanted to believe that she was cured by evangelist Benny Hinn that she never saw her oncologist again. She died of course.
Sometimes even the most malignant tumors will disappear. Some people will naturally recover from these severe situations purely as a result of their own bodies ability to fight off diseases. However, in the vast majority of cases, the patients will eventually die as a result of their diseases.

The wonderful influence of imagination in the cure of diseases is well known. A motion of the hand, or a glance of the eye, will throw a weak and credulous patient into a fit; and a pill made of bread, if taken with sufficient faith, will sometimes bring about a cure better than all the drugs in the pharmacopœia. The placebo effect and the temporal variability of pain in any painful disease will work together to produce a powerful illusion that a faith healer or a quack has brought about a 'cure'. But if the disease is real, the effect of the cure will be temporary.

Faith healing is a cooperative form of magical thinking involving a healer and a patient in which (a) both healer and patient believe in the healing power of spirits or other mysterious healing mechanisms; (b) the healer consciously or unconsciously manipulates the patient into believing he or she has cured the patient's ailment by prayer, hand movements (to unblock, remove, restore, etc. some intangible ‘energy’), or by some other unconventional ritual or product; and (c) the patient validates the healing by giving signs that the healing has worked, such as walking without a brace for a short period, breathing freely, feeling relief from pain, or simply thanking the healer for the ‘miraculous cure.’

I watched on TV recently an experiment in which persons on a busy street who said that they were suffering from some form of pain were encouraged to enter an open tent and let the so-called doctor hook up some wires to the volunteer patient’s heads. The other ends of the wires were connected to a small but impressive-looking machine. The ‘patients’ were told that as soon as the machine was turned on, all of their pain would disappear. And sure enough, as soon as they heard the humming sound coming from the machine, the ‘patients’ claimed they didn’t feel any pain anymore. But in actual fact, all the machine did was hum. No electrical current whatsoever was coursing through the wires and into their brains. What they were experiencing was the incredible effect of a placebo; in other words, the power of persuasion.

The power of persuasion can be extremely effective. Let me give you an example. I practiced hypnosis when I was younger and one day in the early 1950s when I was serving in the Canadian navy, I was asked by a Canadian army dentist to hypnotize his patient as his patient had to have all of his teeth removed. The problem facing the dentist was that he couldn’t give his patient any form of anesthesia as it would stop his heart. He wanted me to give his patient a post-hypnotic suggestion that in three days time, he would sit in the dentist’s chair and as soon as the dentist told him to go to sleep, he would go to sleep and wouldn’t wake up until the dentist told him to wake up. The operation was a success because the power of persuasion (hypnosis) had taken effect.

Faith healing can occur at a distance. There is no need for the patient and healer to meet, as the processes that occur are said to transcend the usual limitations of space and time. The faith healer needs no objective signs of illness (such as medical exams) or objective signs of cure (such as medical exams). However, if they are available and support the cause, all the better. For example, CT scans or X-rays that show a tumor has shrunk are welcome even if the "dark mass" in the original scan "was merely an imperfection of the scanning process.

As to healing someone who is far away, that isn’t as difficult as you can imagine. I remember once hypnotizing a friend of mine on the phone. She was suffering from a bad headache. Through the power of persuasion (hypnotism) I told her that her headache was gone. She later told me that her headache was gone. She had been drinking beer all day and that will give you an enormous headache. However, under hypnosis, the pain of such a headache can be reduced. If she had been suffering from a tumor, the pain of her headache may have been reduced temporarily but it would certainly return.

I remember hypnotizing ten people all at one time. I told them that in fifteen seconds, they would feel an uncontrollable itch on their left arms. Nine of them began scratching their left arms vigorously. The tenth person wasn’t fully hypnotized. The point I am trying to bring to your attention is that if by the power of persuasion, a person such as I can make a person scratch an itch that actually isn’t there, does it not follow that I could also make a pain that isn’t there go away? And even if the pain exists, I could still make the pain go away by hypnotism but as I said earlier, if the source of the pain is permanent, then the pain will return.

Faith healers direct their appeal toward the personal interests and deepest psychological needs of their audiences and those who are suffering from pain or some form of disability. The public and those in need eat it up, television shows and entertainment programs know that audiences love it. Soon there is so much misleading information flying about that those in need of professional medical help have no way of distinguishing medical science from half-truths and falsehoods, or responsible scientific speculation from outright fantasy. Many don't care. Those prone to accept exotic claims uncritically really aren't concerned about the truth. They are simply searching for help, no mater where they can find it. Others just see it all as harmless entertainment.

Many alleged cures by faith healing have involved fraud, as with Marjoe Gortner and Peter Popoff. This phony (Popoff) pretended to get messages from God when he was really getting messages from his wife via an earpiece in his ear. Mrs. Popoff got her information from cards that the believers filled out when they attended the faith-healing exhibitions.

Marjoe was raised by his evangelist parents to be a con man. He began plying his trade at the age of three and continued duping the desperate for more than two decades until he confessed all in a documentary film.

Some alleged cures have involved mistaken diagnoses that required no cure at all, much less a miraculous one. Some may have involved the post hoc fallacy: a healing, for whatever reason, is credited to the faith healer when the only evidence provided is that the healing took place after the session with the healer.

Most cases of faith healing need no cure, since most patients will get better even if they receive no treatment at all. Some serious ailments like cancer and multiple sclerosis abate for months or years for reasons doctors don't understand.

There is an impressive variety of ailments, ranging from back pains to hysterical blindness, that are known to be highly responsive to the power of suggestion. The main requisite for curative effects is the patient's belief in the practitioner's assurances. And, having a positive attitude seems to enhance the body's healing capacities.

The majority of faith healings are successful because of the cooperation of healer and patient. Working together, believing in the treatment, strongly desiring the treatment to work, not only can relieve stress and bring about the curative effects of the power of suggestion, it can lead the patient to give testimony that is exaggerated or even false in the desire to get well and to please the healer. The power of subjective validation is enormous and essential to many, if not most, faith healings.

The faith healer can't lose. Any treatment he or she gives is likely to get a high approval rating. Most patients will validate their treatments. There will be no follow-up, so there will be few bothersome failures. The healer is likely to be showered with proclamations of gratitude. It is no wonder, then, that the healer comes to believe that his or her method, whether it be invoking God or the life force or some other mysterious entity, truly works. Even obvious failures can be blamed on the patient for not having enough faith in God or the healing method or for not cooperating fully. Also, many patients are afraid to admit they're not better because that would imply that they lack faith or didn't participate properly. They blame themselves if the treatment doesn't work.

Emil Freireich, M.D. goes further. He says, as long as a treatment is harmless to either a sick or well person, it "will always prove to be effective for virtually every patient with any serious disease"

The patient wants to be healed, wants the healer to succeed, and can be deceived into thinking she's been cured when what she is experiencing is a temporary relief due to the release of endorphins. For example, when my friend complained of a headache, she wanted the headache to go away. It went away after I hypnotized her because her desire for the headache to go away was a powerful incentive for her to believe in what I was telling her, to wit: “The headache is going away.” Obviously the endorphins kicked in.

One cancer patient at a Kathryn Kuhlman faith-healing performance threw off her back brace and claimed her cancer was cured, but then died two months later after X-rays showed that a cancer-weakened vertebra had collapsed due to the strain placed on it during the demonstration. A child who was given a year to live by doctors was given a trip to Lourdes where he and his family became convinced he had been cured by the miraculous waters there, but he died a year later of his leukemia, as predicted by his doctors.

Stories of miraculous cures by healers are found in most, if not all cultures. As Author James Randi notes in his book that most religions have a tradition of miraculous cures brought about by the touch of prominent individuals, contact with a sacred relic, amulet, or place, anointing with sanctified oil or water. As with all magic, this is an attempt by man to control nature by means of spells, incantations, or rituals. Its effectiveness has been a matter of discussion for centuries but it is only now that the power of suggestion is beginning to be understood.

In addition to the non-miraculous explanations given above, many cures can be attributed to the placebo effect. As Bob Park notes in his book, scientists are beginning to understand the complex interaction of the brain and the endocrine system that gives rise to the placebo effect.

People go to healers when they experience discomfort or when they believe that something about their body is not right. That is, they suffer pain and fear. The response of the brain to pain and fear, however, is not to mobilize the body's healing mechanisms but to prepare it to meet some external threat. It's an evolutionary adaptation that assigns the highest priority to preventing additional injury. Stress hormones released into the bloodstream increase respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate. These changes may actually impede recovery. The brain is preparing the body for action; recovery must wait.

The calm and confident demeanor of the healer relieves stress. Having faith in the method of healing relieves stress. Praying with groups of people relieves stress. Relieving stress is half the battle with many illnesses. Since most people recover from most illnesses, the trip to the healer reinforces the patient's faith in the healer and his or her healing method.

Of course, there will be a percentage of cases that won't heal on their own. Failure to get proper medical treatment may be fatal in some cases and some cases can't be helped by even the best medical treatment available. Any failures are easily explained away as due to a variety of things not including the ineffectiveness of the healer or the healing method.

Some people find solace in bizarre forms of faith healing, such as psychic surgery offered by such characters as Dr. Fritz. Or they become followers of such charlatans as John of God, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, or Robert Tilton. Many people believe these characters are divine agents. They have faith and they are not too demanding when it comes to evidence for healing. They don't do follow-ups and they are willing to take things as they appear to be or as the healers tell them to take it. Believers are fond of Loyola's statement of faith: For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who disbelieve, no amount of proof is sufficient.
Others seek alternative treatments like acupuncture or homeopathy, (which is on many occasions effective) or they seek New Age faith healers who deal in ‘energies’ because these healers don't involve hospitals, surgery, or powerful pharmaceuticals. They are aware of the potential deadly consequences of some science-based medicine and seek alternatives because they think they are safer.

Rather than being cured in the hospital, one might be harmed by malpractice or the unforeseen consequences of an infection or the side-effects of a drug. Some people would rather risk everything on a beautiful-sounding bit of hopeful gibberish than expose themselves to the world of hospitals and physicians. Hospitals symbolize sickness. By choosing an ‘alternative’ path they think they are choosing wellness and often they think they are choosing a spiritual path as well. Or, they may have taken the path of scientific medicine to an endpoint for them. The faith healer is their last hope.

Christian Scientists form a unique and strange group, holding apparently contradictory notions about prayer and illness. On the one hand, Christian Scientists claim "that prayer has brought about recovery from anemia, arthritis, blood poisoning, corns, deafness, defective speech, multiple sclerosis, skin rashes, total body paralysis, visual difficulties, and various injuries." On the other hand, the founder of Christian Science Mary Baker Eddy believed in the prayer of total submission to the will of an all-powerful, perfect God. She believed that whatever happens, does so only because God wills it. In her Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures she wrote; "If the sick recover because they pray or are prayed for audibly, only petitioners should get well."

Christian Scientists are best known for not using medicine. They believe that illness is an illusion caused by faulty beliefs and that prayer heals by replacing false thoughts with spiritually true ones. Christian Science practitioners work by trying to argue the sick thoughts out of the person's mind. Consultations can take place in person, by telephone, or even by mail. Individuals may also be able to attain correct beliefs by themselves through prayer or mental concentration." These consultations are not free but they are tax deductible.

There has been about a 60% drop in the number of Christian Science practitioners and teachers over the past 25 years. Membership dropped about 10% during the last decade of the twentieth century. There are about 1,800 Christian Scientist practitioners and teachers in the U.S. and about 1,000 churches. Also, there is evidence that their policy of not seeking medical attention has had some serious longevity consequences that is obviously predictable.

Christian Scientists are just one of several religions that shun proper medical care and use prayer to heal themselves and their children. Asser and Swan reported that over a twenty-year period 172 children died whose parents chose religious rituals over medical care for them. They concluded, "One hundred forty fatalities were from conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%. Eighteen more had expected survival rates of 50%. All but 3 of the remainder would likely have had some benefit from clinical help."

Every year more children die because parents choose religious rituals over proper medical care for their children. After three deaths of children whose parents are members of a religious cult called Followers of Christ, the Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill that would remove legal protections for parents who rely on faith healing to care for their sick children. Nowadays if these parents refuse to take their children to a doctor or to a hospital if the need arises, they will be criminally charged if their child dies.

There is a large segment of the public that honestly does prefer accurate to inaccurate information and facts to non facts. Most people do want to base their opinions on some semblance of a realistic view of the world. This is the reason why
I am writing this article for my readers.

In Christianity, Jesus became a source of restorative power, bringing a healing ministry and effecting miraculous cures of both mind and body wherever he went. Not counting duplicate or parallel accounts, the gospels record more than forty healing acts—representing in some instances the cure of an individual, and in others the healing of entire groups. Jesus also gave his disciples the power of healing, saying of those who believe that "they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16: 15-18).

Without trying to appear as being hypocritical, I am forced to ask this rhetorical question; did he use his power of persuasion to heal those who actually believed that they were really ill?

Earlier this year, my book, The Second Appearance was published. It is a story about a boy who in 1946 was believed by many to be Jesus Christ who had returned to earth. Many believed that he had the power to cure people of their ills. He did not share their belief. Let me quote from a passage in the book.

“You betrayed me.” Russell said angrily. “You told the people in the Civic Center that I could cure them of their illnesses. I never told you that I could.”

“My son,” replied the evangelist in a smooth voice. “You cured some of them in that auditorium. They cried out that they felt no more pain.”

Russell responded angrily, “I told them then and I am telling you now, that it was their faith in God that cured them, not I.”

I believe that in Jesus’ time, the people he cured had a strong faith in God and it was that faith in God that cured them. The same applied to those who were healed by his disciples. Jesus and his disciples both used the power of persuasion to make the people believe that they were cured of their ailments because of their faith in God.

In early Christianity, subsequent practices of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches employed various amulets and relics to bring about cures. But the cures wouldn’t have come about if the inflicted hadn’t believed in the power that supposedly came from the amulets and relics.

In 1962, the United Lutheran Church appointed a commission of doctors and theologians to investigate faith healing as it was performed by certain practitioners. In their report, the investigators concluded that for the money and power the faith healers got, they exploited the desperate, ignored proven scientific treatments and blamed their failures on the sick people's lack of sufficient faith.

Healing occurs naturally in the body. Wounds routinely mend, broken bones knit, infections respond to the body's immune system, and so on. While this natural process may be assisted by faith healing, cuts and wounds still have to be treated and bound with bandages.

Unfortunately, there are still fraudulent faith healers around the world. Here are particulars of some of them who were practicing in the past or are still practicing their so-called faith healing in the present.

Modern day faith healers do not have any supernatural power. They are like magicians putting on a performance. As we all know, magic is not real, it is based on illusions. The same is true of faith healers today. They act out well-practiced and staged magic tricks for a fee or what they like to call ‘love gifts.’ One man who worked as a volunteer with one such faith healer later said on TV that in that one session alone, the devotees gave as much as $76.000 to the faith healer when the offering plates were passed around.

Peter Popoff, like many faith healers, would call out the names, illnesses, and sometimes addresses of people at his crusades, then ‘lay his hands’ on them and prays for their healing. The impression given at such services is that the information came directly from God. A magazine distributed by Popoff's organization described an audience member being "called out by the Spirit for healing". Those in the audience were so impressed by Popoff's "Gift of Knowledge" that they would break into applause. The subjects picked are so overwhelmed that they often broke into tears. One woman who was ‘healed’ at one of the meetings and later interviewed by CSER stated: "I know he is real from the way he talked. He actually knew my address and had no notes to look at! He is real, all right!"

She didn’t know that the card she filled out when she entered the building was given to Popoff’s wife who then relayed the information to Popoff by a radio message that he received in an earpiece inserted in his ear. If this fraudster had the power to heal, why would be need to use his wife to relay information to him via his earpiece?

One time, his so-called laying of his hands backfired. Popoff learned what had been written about someone who was wheeled on stage via the secret transmission and spoke to the person in the audience. The person was wheeled up to the front. Popoff’s wife Elizabeth called out to her husband via his earpiece. "Bernice Manicoff. The woman with hair on her face. She's in a wheelchair and can walk." But it wasn’t a woman sitting in the wheelchair. It was a man. After the man rose from the wheelchair and started to walk, Elizabeth realizing that it was man and not a woman started screaming to Popoff via the secret transmitter: "That's a guy from Anaheim! He's a stooge! It's a man, a man! Get away from him! That's the guy from Anaheim! Drop him fast!" The guy from Anaheim was working with another man who was debunking Popoff and others like him. It worked. Popoff was thoroughly debunked.

Among the celebrities in the Word Faith Movement, none is better known than Benny Hinn. From his lavish life-style to his on-stage performances, Benny Hinn has become the modern stereotype of the faith healers, even providing at least partial inspiration for Steve Martin’s character in the movie Leap of Faith. Hinn claims that thousands have been healed in his crusades. There have even been claims of the dead being raised. But when pressed for documentation, the ministry has been woefully unable to provide much, if any, evidence for these assertions. Despite years of exposé’s by both Christian and secular sources alike, his ministry continues to have thousands of ardent followers. It is estimated by various sources that his organization takes in over one hundred million dollars per year, though this amount is disputed and is impossible to verify as the ministry refuses to publicly disclose its finances.

One way to evaluate whether or not faith healers like Hinn possess healing power would be to compare their miracles to those of Jesus Christ. When this is done, striking differences begin to appear. First, Christ healed specific individuals. Never once do we read a passage where Jesus say’s anything such as;

“A muscle condition has been healed. I give you the praise. Just now lift your hands and call upon His precious name, dear Jesus, dear Jesus, dear Jesus. Sinuses have just been healed, I give you praise. A neck injury has been healed, I give you the praise. In the audience God is touching people right now right here, the Lord is touching many of you in this audience right here in this studio, I give you praise Jesus. In your homes, many of you are being healed. Someone’s shoulders have just been released from pain, someone with a shoulder problem has just been healed, I give you praise Jesus.” unquote

Yet this is standard fare among healers like Hinn who regularly stands at the front of the auditorium and recites illnesses supposedly being healed as though he is taking roll. Those who think they are among the recipients of healing are then invited to come to the front to testify as to the success of his healing powers.

It should be noted too that all of this is carefully orchestrated by Hinn’s associates. Many who are not considered a good healing risk are restricted from access to Hinn. Dr. Stephen Winzenburg, a professor at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa has conducted research into evangelists’ ministries. Concerning Hinn, Dr. Winzenburg states, “He’s very much like a circus ringmaster when he’s there in the arena. People may be coming for healing, but it’s very much controlled hysteria.” Obviously if a person has terminal cancer, you can be sure that he or she won’t be invited to the stage to be blessed by Hinn because all his blessings will be for naught. That person is going to die anyway.

Sitting cross-legged in front of a big-screen TV, an 11-year-old squints through Coke-bottle glasses at a Miracle Crusade video made more than two years ago in which he starred as a boy who miraculously recovered from blindness. “I liked it at first because I thought I was being healed,” says Williams in the living room of his aunt and uncle’s home. On the screen, Hinn bends down to William, his hands on the child’s face. “Look at these tears,” says Hinn, peering into the child’s eyes. “William, baby, can you see me?” Before more than 15,000 people in a Las Vegas arena, William nods. In a small voice, the boy says, “As soon as God healed me, I could see better.” Hinn, an arm wrapped around William, tells the audience that God has told him to pay the child’s medical expenses and education. People weep. Today William is still legally blind and says his sight never improved, and that his onstage comments were wishful thinking.” Incidentally, the family has yet to receive any of the promised money for medical or educational expenses. So as you can see, not only is Hinn a fraudulent faith healer, he is also a man whose word is worthless.

And what about these claims that some faith healers have raised the dead? One such faith healer claimed that he raised 23 people in the United Kingdom from the dead.

I referred to that question in my book The Second Appearance when I dealt with the supposed death of the protagonist’s best friend and the death of the protagonist. His best friend later said in the book, “Perhaps the readings of my heart and that of Russell’s heart in the original monitor were false. I just don’t have a real answer for you.”

I don’t have a real answer for my readers also other than to say that if these so-called dead people were really dead, their brains would have been totally destroyed and no one could have revived them. But as we all know, many people have been determined to have been dead and later found to be alive. That is because although the signs of life weren’t apparent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their brains were fully dead.

I could go on and on about these fraudulent faith healers but I don’t think it is necessary. Most people are sensible enough to fully understand that faith healing is really a sham. Admittedly, it can on occasion give sufferers some temporary relief but in the long run, their inflictions will return unless they seek qualified medical help.

This is not to say that people who are suffering from some form of affliction shouldn’t pray to whatever god they believe in. Praying can do wonders for people and if praying to their god will kick-start their healing process, then they should pray for relief. It certainly can do no harm UNLESS they choose to rely entirely on prayer and not on the care that they will receive from their doctors or hospitals.

In 1999, I was extremely ill. Three of my four major arteries feeding my heart were extremely clogged. (90%, 90% and 99%) They were clogged so bad that even when I turned over in bed at night, I was having a minor heart attack. If I had gone to a faith healer and asked him to pray for me and heal me instead of going to the hospital for the triple bypass heart operation I received, I would surely have died within a month. I can't help but wonder just how many people have died because they believed that their faith healer had saved them when in fact only emergency medical help was what they really needed.

1 comment:

Suzanne F. said...

I agree that faith healers are a sham. However, Brother Andre was not in the same league. It's true that many people came to see him, but he did not go out and seek people to heal the way some ministries do today. The Church is also aware of the placebo effect. There's no attempt to attribute healing to a miraculous power if there's the possibility of a psychologically induced healing. However, the Church does exercise great diligence in excluding all medical explanations when it declares a healing to be miraculous. If a person is on the verge of dying from terminal cancer and has no consciousness, it's difficult to attribute healing to a placebo effect.