Faith Healers and Short Memories: John of God on Oprah

The November 17 Oprah Winfrey Show featured a segment on Brazilian faith healer João Teixeira who is popularly known in his country as João de Deus or John of God. The Teixeira story has been covered before, prominently in a controversial ABC Primetime Live segment in 2005.

Teixeira, 68, is a medium with no medical training who periodically enters a trance when he is occupied by “entities” consisting of dead doctors and Catholic saints (including St. Ignatius Loyala, pictured) whose healing powers are channeled through Teixeira allowing him to diagnosis diseases at a glance. The patients do not have to be physically present but can instead be represented by a photograph or patient surrogate.

Following diagnosis, the patients undergo either visible or “invisible” surgery.  The majority of healings don’t involve physical contact: these invisible surgeries consist of meditation in a “healing room” with hundreds of other patients who are instructed to keep their eyes closed and not to cross their arms or their legs. The visible surgeries consist of either corneal (eyeball) “scraping” with a knife,  the insertion of forceps through the nose, or skin incisions on various places of the body.

These procedures are claimed to be effective in treating a wide variety of maladies including AIDS, arthritis, cancer and psychiatric conditions among others. Although Teixeira claims to collect no fees for his services, there are various products for sale (e.g. healing herbs and crystals and DVDs) and “healing journeys” to his Casa De Dom Inacio in the town of Abadiania. The cost is $1000-$3000 depending on length of stay and excluding airfare.

This Resounding Health CaseBook on John of God contains links to all of the background information of our story.

The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a million dollar prize to anyone who can show evidence of paranormal or supernatural events, including corneal scraping as an effective therapy.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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