Friday, December 5, 2008

David Carver Ames

Although there are numerous reports of travellers from Western countries journeying to see John of God, there are very few (if any) follow-ups in the media on these people and their conditions.

From what it seems to me, searching the articles written about John of God that are available through Lexis- Nexis database, the media (in America as well as Britain, Canada and Australia) find it a very good story to report on someone's planned visit and their hopes for recovery.

Reporting on what happens during and after the visit, however, does not seem to at all interest them. The reasons for this are many; perhaps it simply doesn't make for much of a story to report that an MS patient readers learned about a year before has since died or that someone with HIV still has HIV.

Where possible, I will do my best to research and follow-up on the fates of John of God's former patients.

One such patient was Mr. David Ames of San Francisco. He was one of several patients profiled on ABC News' 2005 "Primetime" special on John of God.

In the special, Mr. Ames, a sufferer of ALS (more commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's disease"), was shown as having his treatment at the hands of John of God resulting in no effect. The results were described by ABC in the following way:

"David Ames, of San Francisco, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in April 2003. His nervous system was slowly disintegrating, and faced almost certain death -- only 10 percent of patients survive for 10 years or more. He has had no physical improvement, but he still says his spirit has gained from his visit. "

Tragically, David Ames has since died of ALS. The following is his obituary:

I do not know of any single case where John of God has been known to cure any person of any disease that cannot be explained through a) medical misdiagnosis of the actual disease, b) a disease or ailment that was actually cured through conventional medicine or c) an ailment that would have been temporary anyway and went away on its own, such as back pain or d) a case of the patient falsely remembering what actually happened and exaggerating the results.

If anyone knows of a single cases where John was proven to have cured anyone of any physicial ailment, please contact me. I will research it as far as I am able, write about it and post it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The absence of pain in John's surgeries- paranormal?

Another miracle claimed by John is that his patients exhibit no signs of pain when their flesh is cut with a knife. While I've never seen this performed, except on video, I believe that this is due to a combination of adrenaline rush, the power of suggestion and trickery.

When people unaccustomed to it are subjected to sudden stress or shock, their bodies produce an adrenaline rush that makes them temporarily numb to pain. There are many accounts of wounded soldiers and victims of shootings or stabbings not feeling any physical pain upon being injured (or not realizing at first that they were shot or stabbed at all).

An adrenaline rush is only temporary and wears off after minutes, if not seconds, leaving the victim in often terrible pain. Since no further follow-ups are done on John's patients, the cameras might not capture them reacting to the pain (if adrenaline rush is indeed the case here).

Also, John rarely cuts sensitive areas of the body and seems to only cuts superficially. The people he performs "visible surgery" on are also told to close their eyes, which leads to little immediate show of reaction on their part.

It is also entirely possible that John treats the knife with a painkiller, as he might be doing with the instruments he touches to the eyes of his patients.

It's important to note that these are all simply suppositions. Does any of this "prove" (or disprove) anything? No, but it is a valid, full and prefectly satisfying explanation for John's alleged "miracles". At the very least, it's a reason to reconsider travelling to another continent and putting your health (and perhaps your life) into this man's hands.

It is impossible to know what the truth behind John's procedures are due to John's never having subjected himself to medical testing, save once. Although at least one physician has observed the surgeries that take place at the Casa, the doctor was not there to examine any of the patients, conduct any testing or partake in any medicial studies.

The one medical study that has been undertaken, which investigated the effects of 30 surgeries, proved inconclusive.

Here is the study, in the original Portugese:

To quote from the summary: "The surgerical procedures are real but we couldn't evaluate the efficacy. It didn't appear to have any specific effect. Our findings are undoubtedly more of an exploratory kind than conclusive ones. Further studies are clearly necessary to cast light on this unorthodox treatment."

There is an organization that tests claims of the paranormal, an organization by the name of the James Randi Educational Foundation. If John should ever desire to prove his alleged abilities, nothing would be simpler than taking the JREF's test. A million US dollars are offered for any demonstration of any paranormal feat, something that John should have no difficulty doing, as he claims to perform it every day and for a good deal of money.

Why doesn't John take this test or offer any other proof of his abilities? A million dollars could be his for the taking, to use in any way he desires and all of his critics would be silenced once and for all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Have John's surgeries really never caused an infection?

John claims that his incisions carry no risk of infection, even though he utilizes unsterilized instruments. He holds the absence of infection as proof of his alleged abilities and he and his followers tout it as miraculous at every opportunity.

Is this proof that John has healing abilities? And is this really as amazing as it seems?

First of all, psychic surgey (what John calls "visible surgery") rarely involves cutting skin- just the illusion of doing so. Few psychic surgeons actually draw blood; John, however, has been known to do so.

Secondly, not all breaking of skin leads to infection; it is perfectly possible to be shallowly cut with a clean knife and have the wound remain free of the virus and bacteria needed for infection to occur. It should not be assumed that all sterilized or non-sterilized instruments would, in all cases, automatically lead to infection.

Still, has John of God really never caused an infection? At least one person, a healthy woman who made the pilgrimage to the Casa with her sister and father, testifies that he has:

"From first hand experience, I can tell you that John of ? is an opportunist and a deceiver. I traveled to Abadiania in Oct. of 2001 to accompany my ill father and sister. I was in good health. On October 4th, 2001, I had unexpected physical surgery [at the healing center].

While in the casa, my father and sister were separated from me. They were instructed to enter a room where their invisible surgery was to take place. I was directed to a line where I could present photos of ill people to John and he would subsequently write an herbal prescription for them. This line led into a room where John sat. As I approached him, I could see how he scribbled on pieces of paper and handed them back to people ahead of me. Finally I came to face him. I handed him the photos. He proceeded to scribble out the prescriptions and then it happened. He grabbed my arm and looked at me. I became paralyzed. I could not move, speak or open my eyes. I could only hear.

As I stood there, I felt my pants being pulled down from my waist to my hip. I heard John directing his attendants and then I felt the sting of the scalpel. I was screaming in my head. I could not believe what was happening to me. He continued to make an incision on my abdomen. He passed the scalpel 2 or 3 times on my abdomen. I felt his fingers probing in the incision. I then felt the pricks of a needle. He was stitching the incision. I heard him say he was finished.

Then I was able to open my eyes and I looked down on my abdomen where he had made the incision. Before I could protest, his attendants sat me down on a chair and I was whisked away to the recovery room. There the nurse attendants washed my incision with the so called holy water. I was very angry at what had occurred. John had assaulted me. I voiced my complaints in the recovery room. The attendants just directed me to a taxi cab and told me to go back to my hotel and rest. Let it be understood I DID NOT VOLUNTEER OR GIVE ANY PERMISSION FOR ANY KIND OF SURGERY. This was an ASSAULT.

Approx. 3-4 days later, I got an infection at the incision site. It started to spread. I required medical attention fast. My sister kept insisting I be taken to a hospital. John's followers were reluctant to let us go, they kept insisting John could heal me. John saw the infection and removed the stitches. John and his acolytes were more concerned about the negative publicity this would cause than my life. Finally, my sister demanded the owner of the hotel to call us a cab. She created a commotion. Finally, around midnight we got our cab. I was taken to Brasilia and was hospitalized for approximately a week. The infection had turned gangrenous. Massive dosages of varying antibiotics were given intravenously and sections of tissue were removed from my abdomen. By the grace of GOD, not John, I recovered.

As stated in Primetime, John is a very, very wealthy man. The Primetime program also stated he does not charge.That is very misleading. In Oct. 2001, the herbal prescriptions which are scribbled by John cost US$20 for a small bottle. The holy water charge is 1-2 dollars a bottle, the crystal baths they provide are $10, and you are told to drink a lot of holy water from the casa, which will help in the healing process. About 200-300 people visit the casa per day and from what I observed 90% are given prescriptions. All these charges might not seem a lot to a foreigner who is desperate for a cure and has traveled far to get to Abadiania , but in Brazil it is a tremendous amount of money.

I spoke to some locals in Abadania, and what I was told did not leave me with a Godly impression of John and his followers. In the program it stated that in 30 years no infection has been reported. John and his followers know better, they know. It's just not in their best interest to acknowledge the truth. People like John and his acolytes will continue to deceive. I can only warn people of him and state that there are GODLY powers then there are UNGODLY. You be the judge."

Monday, December 1, 2008

BBC2's "Trust Me, I'm a Healer"

In 2007, the BBC ran a series examining the claims of various healers, among them a feature on John of God directed by filmmaker Danny Horan. Mr. Horan followed several British visitors to the Casa, among them a cancer patient and a victim of multiple sclerosis and obtained an interview with JOhn himself. Although the documentary takes a skeptical point of view, I found it to be very even-handed and much more than fair to John of God.

Here is a version of the documentary uploaded to YouTube (the quality is not the best and the sound is a bit out of synch but it is well worth watching):

Why did the hotel owner and John of God advise Ms. Morgan to return to Britain? Why did John refuse to treat her? Could it have been that John assumed that she was beyond any help, certainly beyond any help that he could give her, and refused to take responsibility for something he knew would prove to be a failure? As Miss Morgan's companion observed, it's likely that neither John nor the hotel desire a death on their hands.

At the very least, this incident seems to disprove John's claim that "no one is turned away", which he or his followers state on several websites affiliated with the Casa.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What is the placebo effect?

The placebo effect is a phenomenon where a medicine (or any other treatment) seems to temporarily work because the patient thinks it will work and wants it to work.

Doctors sometimes prescribe placebos to fend off patients that demand treatments they don't need. Placebos are also used in double-blind clinical trials; one group is given a certain treatment and the other (the "control" group) is unknowingly prescribed a placebo such as a sugar pill, for comparison.

Placebos can only temporarily seem to cure and are of no help in severe illnesses. They have been shown to be effective, to a point, for relieving insomnia, anxiety, colds, headaches and minor pain.

However, the placebo effect often comes into play in false treatments. Patients feel better because of the psychosomatic effects and the power of suggestion. They report feeling better because they want to feel better, not because of any actual change. The pill or treatment does not benefit them in and of itself; it benefits them because of their own expectations and beliefs.

The placebo effect can be a useful tool in certain situations but it is of no use in the treatment of cancer, AIDS, paralysis or any other serious ailments. It eventually wears off and fools patients into believing that they are being cured when they are not. This leads to the delay of real treatment, the only cure that has been proven to work.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An explanation of the "Eyeball Scraping" trick

Another one of John's tricks is to appear to run a knife over a patient's eye. How this is intended to cure one of AIDS, cancer, back pain, Parkinson's Disease or any other ailment is unclear but what's clear is that there is a perfectly possible way to accomplish this, besides having any psychic or mystical healing powers.

Magician and skeptical investigator James Randi had this to say about it:

"John of God will seat a subject for his "visible surgery" stunt and apparently scrape the eyeball of the patient with the edge of a knife. I believe that this is a variation of the usual trick — illustrated on page 177 of my book, "Flim-Flam!" — in which a knife-blade is inserted under the eyelid of a subject with little or no resulting discomfort. With the Brazilian faker, the "scraping" motion gives it a much more fearsome aspect, but for several good reasons I doubt that any contact takes place with the cornea.

The sclera — the white section of the eye — is relatively insensitive to touch. Try touching that area with a finger or any clean object, and you'll see this is true. The cornea, however, is very sensitive — among the most sensitive areas of the body. Incidentally, it's also the fastest-healing organ, which accords very well with Darwinian standards; being able to see is one of our very best sensory means of defense.

Most persons — and I'm one of them — have a difficult time watching the eye being touched. We tend to empathize with the situation, and I'm sure that some readers are at this moment involuntarily squinting in distaste as they read these words; we're that reactive to eyeball-touching. Few persons will resist looking away when John of God seems to scrape an eyeball, and I note that he's furtively watching the position of the camera as he performs this stunt, blocking the view with his body when a close-up is sought.

There's also the distinct possiblity here that John of God introduces a temporary local anaesthetic — benzocaine would work — onto the eye surface, which would allow contact with the cornea. We don't know, though we could have found out....

In any case, unless an anaesthetic has been introduced, it is impossible for this man to be touching the cornea of a human eye as he appears to do, without causing immediate involuntary flinching from the patient. The JREF will stake its million-dollar prize on that statement. "

An explanation of the "Human Blockhead" trick

The inside of your skull (courtesy of

The inside of your skull with a nail in it

(courtesy of

One of the physical feats that John of God performs to impress his audience is placing forceps deep inside the nose of a patient without harming them. This may look astonishing to the average viewer and it may seem explainable only by magic but there exists a perfectly worldly explanation for how this feat can be quite easily accomplished.

Most people are under the impression that their nostrils extend upwards, straight up into a person's skull. This is not so. The nasal cavity actually extends straight back towards the throat. Inserting a nail into one's (or someone else's) nose and pulling it out is perfectly possible and involves little danger if done correctly after some practise. This is why the person's nostrils appear to be pushed back, like in a pig's snout (which they would not if the nail really were inserted into the skull).

Try this at home: take a soft piece of paper, roll it up and attempt to slowly insert it into your nostrils. It goes straight back, doesn't it? Does it hurt? It's uncomfortable at first, yes, but your biggest challenge is likely trying not to sneeze.

This trick is a staple of carnival acts throughout the world. Google "Human Blockhead" and you'll find dozens of photos of sideshow performers performing this very trick (some even with hammers and power drills!)

Wikipedia article on the trick: