Is Dr. Oz Fit To Join the U.S. Senate?
Celebrity TV physician Mehmet Oz is running in the Republican primary to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate. Trained as a heart surgeon, Oz became famous as a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and later launched his own daytime TV series, in which he dispensed medical advice for 13 seasons. Before becoming a medicine-show entertainer, Oz did some truly groundbreaking work at Columbia University with respect to pioneering minimally invasive surgical techniques to repair damaged hearts.
Oz’s “Why I’m Running” statement leans heavily on the disarray and discord provoked by COVID-19. “The urgency of my decision crystalized during the pandemic,” it says. “At least half a million American people have died from the virus, a devastating toll for families and communities. What also hurts is that many of those deaths were preventable.” He adds, “In this emergency, we needed capable leaders ready to act—and we didn’t get that. The entire situation angered me.”
Oz specifically inveighs against “elite thinkers who controlled the means of communication” and the “arrogant, close-minded people” who “closed our schools, shut down our businesses and took away our freedom.” He adds: “America should have been the world leader on how to beat the pandemic. Instead, we were not.”
A lot of “elite thinkers” in the media are responding by calling Oz a quack. “Just What the Quack Ordered: Dr. Oz Expected to Announce Pennsylvania Senate Run,” proclaims Vanity Fair. “Quack TV Doctor Thinks He Deserves to Be a Senator, Because That’s Where We Are Now,” headlines Rolling Stone. “Dr. Oz Quacks the Code of Republican Party,” quips The Bulwark. MSNBC piles on with “Dr. Oz is the TV quack candidate Republicans deserve.”
Are they right? Again, Oz has been a skilled and innovative heart surgeon. But his long-time advocacy of unconventional treatments and therapies have indeed prompted criticism from a lot of his medical colleagues.
Going back to 1999, Oz co-wrote “A Study of the Effect of Energy Healing on In Vitro Tumor Cell Proliferation,” published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. In that study, an “energy healer” tried to slow down the growth of cancer cells in Petri dishes. Oz and his colleagues reported that “energy healing appears to influence several indices of growth in in vitro tumor cell proliferation” but ultimately found that the effects were inconclusive. Other researchers have been more firmly negative: A 2005 study in the British Journal of Cancer testing the powers of three different energy healers on cancer cell growth in Petri dishes reported that its “results do not support previous reports of beneficial effects of spiritual healing on malignant cell growth in vitro.”
Nevertheless, Oz has maintained his interest in “energy healing.” On a 2004 episode of NPR’s Speaking of Faith, Oz told host Krista Tippett: “Let’s take a big area of energy. And whether energy exists or not at the macro level, at the level of the human being, is a difficult thing to tell.” Still, he continued, “Why would we not think that disturbances of that energy might cause some of the ailments that we cannot, today, put a name on?”
In 2012, Oz wrote a glowing foreword to “energy healer” Raven Keyes’ book, The Healing Power of Reiki, in which he explains that he had allowed Keyes (with his patients’ permission) into his operating room while he conducted surgery. Reiki practitioners claim to heal by channeling universal life force energy through their hands into their clients’ bodies.
“My reiki master is the archangel Gabriel. All I have to do is ask Gabriel to activate all the angels, and everybody’s angels come to life,” Keyes explained to Vox in 2015. “I’m connecting with the divine light within me and allowing myself to absorb the divine light in myself so it expands outward.”
Despite its dubious direct therapeutic value, prestigious medical centers such as the Cleveland Clinic do now offer reiki treatments as a form of complementary medicine. The Baylor rheumatologist Donald Marcus published an op-ed in The Journal of Clinical Investigation last year decrying the proliferation of alternative medicine offerings at leading medical centers. “The defining characteristic of alternative therapies,” he argued, “is that their health claims do not meet evidence-based standards, and many, such as naturopathy, homeopathy, and energy healing, are scientifically implausible.”
Other medical professionals have called Oz a quack because his TV medicine s
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