Unconventional Therapies - Psychic Surgery


The role of your cancer health professional is to create an environment of openness and trust, and to help in making informed decisions about alternative/complementary therapies. Collaboration will improve the safe integration of all therapies during your experience with cancer. The "Summary" and "Professional Evaluation / Critique" sections of this Unconventional manual are cited directly from the medical literature, and are intended to help in the objective evaluation of alternative/complementary therapies.

"After study of the literature and other available information, the American Cancer Society has found no evidence that "psychic surgery" results in objective benefit in the treatment of any medical condition. Lacking such evidence, the American Cancer Society strongly urges individuals who are ill not to seek treatment by psychic surgeon." (CA)

"The National Council Against Health Fraud warns consumers that psychic surgery (1) wastes money - often in substantial amounts; (2) causes psychological harm; (3) may cause needless death by keeping people from timely, effective health care; and (4) may result in needless, avoidable suffering or discomfort by denying patients good quality medical management of terminal diseases." (CA)

Description / Source / Components
"Psychic surgery is a modern expression of traditional Filipino shamanism. Practiced also in North America by visiting Filipino shamans, psychic surgery involves the extraction of "tumors" from the body through a bloody but painless and invisible 'incision' in the patient's abdomen. Chicken blood and parts have been found hidden on the shamans who perform these procedures."  (Cassileth)

"The 'psychic surgeons' of the Philippines and Brazil are marketed as traditional healers who possess special, mystical powers." (Hafner)

"Psychic surgery is a procedure in which sleight-of-hand is used to create an illusion that patients can be cured with surgery that leaves no skin wound." (Hafner)

The psychic operation is "the removal of tissue from the body using bare hands, without the use of anaesthetics or antisepsis, leaving little or no indication on the skin that an operation had been performed." (Dein)

"The psychic surgeon would put one hand on the patient's shoulder and the other hand making a movement resembling the pushing of a plunger on a syringe. The 'aim' of the injections was to boost spiritual energy in the body, a depletion of which could make a person more susceptible to illness." (Dein)

"Most patients received injections of a dark-brown solution, which, some of the visiting doctors speculated, may be an iodine solution mixed with either alcohol or a local anesthetic. In many patients, he infected this solution near the pathological area or at an acupuncture point near the pathological area. When the needle of the syringe was in the acupuncture point, he twirled it with his fingers several times and then withdrew it. Minor surgery was performed in about 1/5th of the patients with whom the author observed. Most of the surgical incisions were made on the midline of the tissue over the spine near the pathological area. The clamping of blood vessels and the closings of the surgical wounds were performed by licensed surgeons or licensed nurses."  (Omura)

The main treatment appears to be the application of external Qi Gong energy through the fingers of the right-hand, in combination with Shiatsu Massage and a manual procedure resembling chiropractic manipulation. (Omura)

It is estimated that there are more than 400 psychic surgeons in the Philippines. There is one in every big hotel in Manila. Reverend Tony Agpaoa was the most famous. Now deceased, "he put faith healing on a multi-national footing with his own travel agency, Diplomat Tours, which organizes groups from Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand." He was unable to organize tours from the U.S. where he was indicted for fraud in connection with psychic surgery in 1967. He forfeited a $25,000 bond when he jumped bail and returned to the Philippines.  (Marchant [1])

Proponent / Advocate Claims 
The psychic surgeon usually postulates that "if a blood clot was not removed it would form a tumour which would then lead to cancer." (Dein)

Psychic surgeons claim to be able to cure many diseases including diabetes and cancer. Agpaoa talked of imbalances in the body, biofeedback and mental consciousness. "Our healing is secondary, we bring back the natural way of life to make people healthy again." He is cautious in his claims. "We guarantee that, physically and spiritually, people will leave here better, but we can't guarantee we will cure them."

"Becoming a psychic surgeon is not something that one can choose to do. It is something that comes upon one often during a period of illness." (Dein)

The legitimacy of psychic surgery operations is irrelevant to the surgeons. They say the dramatic operations give patients more confidence and faith in the healing, and is no different, or more morally wrong than a western doctor prescribing a placebo. Agpaoa says his patients heal themselves. "I merely plant the seed with my surgery. The patient's mind does the rest."  (Marchant [1])

A report on psychic surgery recently made by the Yukon Medical Association, notes that many individuals who had undergone psychic surgery showed marked subjective improvement. All of these cases had chronic, poorly defined, nonspecific disorders, such as headaches, abdominal pain or back pain. (Marchant [1])

Dr. Hirota, a psychic surgeon from Brazil, claims to treat 1,000 to 2,000 patients daily between 9 am and 12 noon. (Omura)

"After the surgical wounds were closed, gauze band-aids were applied. When the surface of the gauze facing the wound was examined, it showed strong (+) Qi Gong energy according to the Bi-Digital O-Ring Test." (Omura)

Professional Evaluation / Critique
None of the psychic surgeons in the Philippines "had any formal medical training and most have not been educated beyond primary school." (Azuma)

"When healers operate on Filipinos, they often remove objects such as pieces of tinfoil, coins, a chicken's foot or other foreign objects. This fits in with the Filipino belief in evil spirits, who are held to put these objects into people to make them sick. When dealing with Westerners, though, the healers imitate more orthodox, medical type operation to be convincing." (Marchant [1])

"Tissue allegedly removed from patients during the surgery is usually disposed of quickly by healers and their assistant. Analysis of tissue samples has yielded specimens from chickens, pigs, dogs, and other animals." (CA)

The strongest opponents of faith healing is the Philippine Medical Association (PMA). The PMA claims that "they (the surgeons) take advantage of the gullibility of people. We know that they are fooling the people, but it is hard to do anything about it. Patients won't complain. Either they are ashamed that they have been made fools of, or they have died - so we usually have no proof against faith healers." (Marchant [1])

"The Canadian Embassy in Manila had signed three death certificates for people who would never return alive from their miracle tours (although not from Agpaoa's tours). Of more than 20 known cancer cases who went to Baguio from Vancouver three and fours years ago, not one is still alive according to the BC Cancer Agency." (Marchant [1])

In 1974, Donald F. Wright and Carol Wright testified before a U.S. Federal Trade Commission hearing in Seattle investigating travel agents promoting tours to visit the Philippine healers. The Wrights, from Iowa, students and believers of ESP and magnetic healing, travelled to the Philippines in 1973 to study psychic surgery. Eventually they were convinced that what they saw was not surgery but trickery, and they learned the methods from their surgeon teacher. They were taught how to shop for animal parts used to make up a 'bullet'. A bullet is actual animal tissue or a clot of animal blood and cotton, which is made to appear like tissue coming from inside the body. They were taught how to make the bullet, wrap it, prepare the tissue, how to hide the bullet and then how to transfer it onto the patient. (Marchant [2])

Donald Douglas, who had a healthy heart, claimed to have a "bad heart" on the list of ailments being prepared for psychic surgeons. The healer then purported to yank a "tumor" the size of a peach pit out of Douglas' heart. "I didn't get a good look at it because he threw it in the bucket". The "surgery" involved blood, but Douglas reports that he was sure that it was chicken blood and tissue, not human. (Walls)

Gerry Galiau, spokesman for the Philippines embassy in Ottawa said that his country fears the faith healers are "shady" and are swindling clients out of millions of dollars each year. (Walls)

Toxicity / Risks
The real danger of psychic surgery lies in sick people ignoring proper medical care in their search for a miracle, often returning to their medical doctors only when it is too late. (Marchant [1])

Reverend Agpaoa did not charge direct fees for his ministrations, tour organizers pass around envelopes at the end of the visit for donations. The usual donation is about $100. The cost of a tour organized by Neville World Travel Service is $1,533 from Edmonton to Manila. The date attributed to these costs is uncertain. (Marchant [1])

Azuma N, Stevenson I. "Psychic surgery" in the Philippines as a form of group hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 1988 July;31(1):61-67.

CA (Anonymous). Psychic surgery. CA: a Cancer Journal for Clinicians 1990 May/June;40(3):184-188.

Cassileth BR. Alternative medicine handbook: the complete reference guide to alternative and complementary therapies. New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 1998:316.

Dein S. The management of illness by a Filipino psychic surgeon: a western physician's impression. Social Science & Medicine 1992 Feb;34(4):461-464.

Hafner AW, editor. Reader's guide to alternative health methods. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: American Medical Association, 1993:69,335.

Marchant G [1]. No anesthetic, no knife; bail-jumping Reverend Antonia Agpaoa will heal you with his bare hands. Vancouver Magazine 1978 July:45-47.

Marchant G [2]. Trick or treatment? Vancouver Magazine 1978 July:47.

Omura Y. Impression on observing psychic surgery and healing in Brazil which appear to incorporate (+) qi gong energy & the use of acupuncture points. Acupuncture & Electro-Therapeutics Research 1997;22:17-33.

Walls P. Healing 'just bunch of garbage'. The Province 1982 Jan 28:A-1.

Revised February 2000


BC Cancer Agency (http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/PPI/UnconventionalTherapies/PsychicSurgery.htm)