Psychic surgery is a procedure typically involving the apparent creation of an incision using only the bare hands, the apparent removal of pathological matter, and the seemingly spontaneous healing of the incision.
Psychic surgery has been condemned in many countries as a form of medical fraud. It has been denounced by the US Federal Trade Commission as a "total hoax", and the American Cancer Society maintains that psychic surgery may cause needless death by keeping the ill away from life-saving medical care. Medical professionals and skeptics consider it sleight of hand and any positive results a placebo effect.
Most cases do not involve actual surgery although some practitioners make real incisions. The practitioners are using sleight of hand techniques to produce blood or blood-like fluids, animal tissue or substitutes, and/or various foreign objects from folds of skin of the patient as part of a confidence game for financial benefit of the practitioner.
Two psychic surgery practitioners provided testimony in an Federal Trade Commission trial that, to their knowledge, the organic matter apparently removed from the patients usually consists of animal tissue and clotted blood. In regions of the world where belief in evil spirits is prevalent, practitioners will sometimes exhibit objects, such as glass, explaining that the foreign bodies were placed in the patient's body by evil spirits.
In 1959, the procedure came to the attention of the U. S. public after the publication of Into the Strange Unknown by Ron Ormond and Ormond McGill. The authors called the practice "fourth dimensional surgery," and wrote "[we] still don’t know what to think; but we have motion pictures to show it wasn’t the work of any normal magician, and could very well be just what the Filipinos said it was — a miracle of God performed by a fourth dimensional surgeon."
Alex Orbito, who became well-known in the U. S. through his association with actress Shirley MacLaine was one said practitioner of the procedure. On June 14, 2005, Orbito was arrested by Canadian authorities and indicted for fraud.
Psychic surgery made U.S. tabloid headlines in March 1984 when comedian Andy Kaufman, diagnosed with large cell carcinoma (a rare lung cancer), traveled to the Philippines for a six-week course of psychic surgery. Practitioner Jun Labo claimed to have removed large cancerous tumors and Kaufman declared to believe the cancer had been removed. Kaufman died from renal failure as consequence of a metastatic lung cancer, on May 16, 1984.
A known Brazilian psychic healer who routinely practiced psychic surgery was José (Zé) Arigó, who claimed to be channeling for a deceased medical doctor of name Dr. Fritz. Unlike most other psychic healers, who work bare-handed, Arigo used a non surgical blade. Other psychic healers who claimed to channel for Dr. Fritz were Edson Queiroz and Rubens Farias Jr.. Popular today (especially abroad) is João de Deus, a psychic healer in Abadiânia, state of Goiás.
According to the descriptions of Yoshiaki Omura, Brazilian psychic surgery appears to be different from that practiced in the Philippines. Omura calls attention to the fact that practitioners in Brazil use techniques resembling Qi Gong, Shiatsu massage, and chiropractic manipulation. Some patients are also injected with a brown liquid, and alleged minor surgery was performed in about 20% of the cases observed . While Arigó performed his procedures using kitchen knives in improvised settings, Omura reports that the clamping of blood vessels and the closing of the surgical wounds are now performed by licensed surgeons or licensed nurses.
Russell Targ & Jane Katra reported cases, which they said might be genuine, for example an American official who had a growth on his arm.
In 1990, the American Cancer Society stated that it found no evidence that "psychic surgery" results in objective benefit in the treatment of any medical condition, and strongly urged individuals who are ill not to seek treatment by psychic surgery.
The British Columbia Cancer Agency "strongly urges individuals who are ill not to seek treatment by psychic surgeon.
While not directly hazardous to the patient, the belief in the alleged benefits of psychic surgery may carry considerable risk for individuals with diagnosed medical conditions, as they may delay or forgo conventional medical help, sometimes with fatal consequences.
According to stage magician James Randi, psychic surgery is a sleight-of-hand confidence trick. He has said that in personal observations of the procedure, and in movies showing the procedures, he can spot sleight-of-hand moves that are evident to experienced stage magicians, but might deceive a casual observer. Randi has replicated the appearance of psychic surgery himself through the use of sleight-of-hand. Professional magicians Milbourne Christopher and Robert Gurtler have also observed psychic surgeons at work, and claimed to have spotted the use of sleight-of-hand. On his A&E show Mindfreak in the episode "Sucker," illusionist Criss Angel performed "Psychic Surgery," showing first-hand how it may be done (fake blood, plastic bags and chicken livers were used).
In Randi's view, the healer would slightly roll or pinch the skin over the area to be treated. When his flattened hand reaches under the roll of skin, it looks and feels as if the practitioner is actually entering into the patient's body. The healer would have prepared in advance small pellets or bags of animal entrails which would be palmed in his hand or hidden beneath the table within easy reach. This organic matter would simulate the "diseased" tissue that the healer would claim to be removing. If the healer wants to simulate bleeding, he might squeeze a bladder of animal blood or an impregnated sponge.( ) If done properly, this procedure may deceive patients and observers. However, some "psychic surgery" procedures do not rely solely on the "sleight of hand" described, as at least one Brazilian performer also cuts his victims' skin to heighten the illusion.