Oz and the Tinman

In the classic film, “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy meets a tin woodsman. The solemn Tin Man tells Dorothy that he wasn’t given a heart. He then sings his hit single, “If I Only Had a Heart”, and through song and choreographed dance, the Tin Man shares his dream. He would be “friends with the sparrows and the boy that shoots the arrows”. He would be kind, he would be gentle, and he’d be “awful sentimental”, if he only had a heart. He believes that professional help is the only remedy and decides to ask the “magical” Wizard of Oz.

A number of inconsequential events then lead up to the point when the Wizard of Oz gives the Tin Man a metal shaped into a heart. But in truth, the heart was a fake and it is obvious that Oz gave something to the Tin Man that he already had (America). The Tin Man had always been kind and gentle and awfully sentimental, but not until “Dr. Oz” administered his treatment did the Tin Man believe that. Few know that the Wizard of Oz is a modern parable about pathological effects. The Tin Man’s story relates well to the contemporary subject of placebos.

Placebos are inactive pills or pretense procedures that have a seemingly miraculous healing effect. But miraculous doesn’t accurately describe its effect. The placebo effect is as natural as it is familiar. “It’s like kids and Band-Aids… ‘“When you put a Band-Aid on a child… it can actually make the kid feel better by its soothing effect, though there’s no medical reason it should make the child feel better. ”’(11). But children and tin men aren’t alone. Band-Aids, sugar pills and sham operations have healed people for centuries, and for centuries doctors have studied why.

The conclusion shows a direct relationship between belief and better health. Placebos instill belief by seeming to be real medication. This allows many doctors to use placebos to effectively heal patients. But some people oppose these doctors and claim that placebos are unethical in every case. They want the government ot end placebo use and to punish the practitioners. They fear the effects of placebos. But these fears are just fears, and their claims are only claims. Prescribing placebos is an ethical way of achieving better health.

It is effective, safe, and could be the only answer in select cases. (Further placebo explanation and history) Although there are obvious evidences that point to the effectiveness of placebos, there are still those that would say that placebos have no effect. The arguments of placebo skeptics drown in a flood of evidence. Authors of the paper “The Power of Nonspecific Effects in Healing” compiled placebo experiment results from seven different kinds of procedures. The paper reports an “excellent or good outcome in 69. 8 percent of the almost seven thousand cases studied” (9).

Guy Sapirstein, Ph. D. , has been studying the placebo effect for over 20 years, since 1974. And over this time he has arrived at some staggering results. When studying antidepressants, he has found that only 27 percent of the healing effect can be traced to a pharmacologic effect, meaning the medication alone affected the patient’s condition. He then found that 50 percent was due to the psychological impact, or the placebo effect (6). But placebos were effective earlier then 1974. Western medicine of earlier centuries can give nearly all of its credit to the placebo effect.

Tonics, bleeding and herbal medicines were all science had to offer, but many were still healed. They believed in the treatment and in the ability of the doctors, and that is all they needed (5). Relating these notorious quacks and their scary practices to the effect of placebos isn’t going to entice anyone but early Western medicine has provided a useful skill. Doctors now employ this skill in numerous medical domains. In the allergy domain, one experiment, performed by Peptide Therapeutics, reported that 75 percent of the subjects improved significantly when involved in a test for the drug.

But then the results came in. Of the subjects tested, 75 percent were taking a placebo pill (5). The supporting evidence pours down constantly. Last year, Merck, a pharmaceutical company, quit working on a highly anticipated antidepressant called MK-869. The placebos worked just as well (5). “And in a recent study on VEGF, a genetically engineered heart drug… the placebo actually performed better” (5). Not only has the placebo effect been proven but its gift is found in an array of areas.

Be it allergies, behavioral problems or even hearts problems, the placebo works. Just ask the Tin Man. In October of 2004, the FDA sent out a “proposed Medication Guide about Using Antidepressants in Children or Teenagers” to all sponsors (FDA). The guide was very informative on the risks of antidepressants. One disclaimer said that the “treatment with an antidepressant causes suicidal thinking or actions” (FDA). It continues to explain by including large scale testing results involving the actual medication compared against placebos under the same conditions.

Children that took that actual medication were twice as likely to become suicidal than children using placebo pills (FDA). But is this all the consumer should know about antidepressants? According to the FDA, no. Insomnia, violence, worsening irritability, dangerous impulses and mania were just some of the other possible side effects. The dangers of antidepressant pills seem daunting. The placebo, however, has proved to be effective in many instances and in this case and cuts the chance of suicidal side effects in half.

Of course, the use of placebos should be cautiously and responsibly overseen by a professional but the safety of placebos cannot be in question. In fact, the dangers of actual medication should be a much greater concern. (Include other scary drug stats). Placebos have a cleaner slate. All side effects for placebos have proved to be inconclusive. The only proven side effect is a tiny increase in blood sugar (TheOnion). Dr. Jonathan Bergen comments, “It’s all-purpose. Think of it as an aspirin, but without any analgesic properties” (TheOnion).

To save Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West, the Tin Man and others display attributes of courage, intelligence, and love, all qualities they believed they didn’t have. But the Tin Man remained disillusioned after the he successfully showed that he had a heart. Determined to get the proper help, the Tin Man again went to the sham wizard for his gift. Again, the Tin Man reveals the nature of many people in our world under the rainbow. People are constantly checking into checking into hospitals and consulting doctors as they grasp for relief from an imaginary ailment.

Doctors have created volumes of reported cases ranging from simple anxiety problems to “ballistic organ syndrome” where the victim’s organs explode from the body at high velocities (Thackery). Quote from successful book concerning people in hospital beds. It may seem harsh but the advice is to prescribe “dummy” pills for dumb problems. Fight fire with fire. Real medication will not cure fake health issues any better than a placebo. Statistics have already shown the dangers of traditional methods but people will still reach for any pill regardless of these dangers.

The person may be sick, but medicine won’t heal them faster. “If you treat a cold it will last a week, but if you leave it alone it will be gone in seven days” (9). This occurs with more serious diseases as well. Victims to cancer often experience constant pain that can’t be relieved through pharmaceuticals. Michael Jospe, a placebo researcher, tells of his experience, “You’ve got to be there on the oncology ward and see how suffering people get so demanding of drugs that might be extremely harmful to them. ” Opponents fear that placebos demean the patient, even in this example.

But opponents need to view placebos on a larger scale where placebos are “…supportive doctor-patient relationship rather than just as ripping off the patient” (11). The placebo puts great responsibility into doctors’ hands, but if used wisely and sensitively, no damage is done and the person is helped. Placebos were given to Kennedy for a sickness she believed she had. She felt embarrassed at first but she eventually was grateful. “The placebo helped me realize that I’m not unhealthy and I’m going to be okay. Now, I think it’s really neat that something that didn’t really affect me had such a big effect on my life” (11).