Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Harmful Suggestions: A Health Care Dilemma

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Harmful Suggestions: A Health Care Dilemma

Article excerpt

Suggestions change people. They really do. Whether they are mental or audible suggestions, they cause behavioral and physical modifications to take place.

Take, for example, a friend who loosens up immediately and becomes the life of the party when wine is set in front of him. The transformation takes place before the alcohol is ever tasted. The expectation or suggestion of relaxation that the alcohol offers causes the change.

Then theres pain. It can disappear when sugar pills are ingested by someone who has been told they are genuine medicine. Health can even be restored after someone undergoes a simulated treatment or surgery. This phenomenon is called the placebo effect.

When a good suggestion comes to thought, we begin to anticipate the positive outcome. Our anticipation and expectation of good things actually aid in bringing the helpful outcome to fruition. However, the opposite is also true. The effects of negative suggestions can be harmful.

Most likely, whether we know it or not, weve all been affected in some way by the power of a suggestion. And it is this power to cause harm that is stirring up questions about honesty and ethics in health care.

Winfried Huser and his colleagues at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, during a study of the nocebo effect a type of negative placebo effect in which harmful side effects are anticipated by a patient and come to pass because of that expectation observed that a negative suggestion can induce symptoms of illness.

They found that nocebo responses can, for instance, be brought about by unintended negative suggestions on the part of doctors or nurses, e.g., when informing the patient about the possible complications of a proposed treatment.... Patients may develop symptoms and side effects purely because theyve been told about them.

In a National Institutes of Health article, Ted Kaptchuk, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is reported to have praised Dr. Husers findings but wondered if giving less information to patients raised ethical questions. …

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