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Trick or Treatment

In response to:

What Hath Hoova Wrought? from the May 16, 1974 issue

To the Editors:

I have heard somewhere in the past that the only answer to calumny is silence. But your review of my forthcoming book, Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife…by Martin Gardner [NYR, May 16] has gone so far beyond calumny that he cannot remain unanswered.

There is a world of difference between healthy criticism and vicious, scurrilous attacks. In effect, he “reviewed” the book before he even read it, by writing my publishers months ago a long condemnatory letter which paralleled his present review, simply because he heard the book was coming out.

In my note at the beginning of Arigo I mention that the story is strange and incredible, but that there are undisputed facts that cannot be altered even by the most obdurate skeptic. Then the introductory note goes on to say:

It is an established fact that Ze Arigo, the peasant Brazilian surgeon-healer, could cut through the flesh and viscera with an unclean kitchen- or pocketknife and there would be no pain, no hemostasis—the tying off of blood vessels—and no need for stitches. It is a fact that he could stop the flow of blood with a sharp verbal command. It is a fact that there would be no ensuing infection, even though no antisepsis was used.

It is a fact that he could write swiftly some of the most sophisticated prescriptions in modern pharmacology, yet he never went beyond third grade and never studied the subject. It is a fact that he could almost instantly make clear, accurate, and comfirmable diagnoses or blood pressure readings with scarcely a glance at the patient.

It is a fact that both Brazilian and American doctors have verified Arigo’s healings and have taken explicit color motion pictures of his work and operations. It is a fact that Arigo treated over three hundred patients a day for nearly two decades and never charged for his services.

It is a fact that among his patients were leading executives, statesmen, lawyers, scientists, doctors, aristocrats from many countries, as well as the poor and desolate. It is a fact that Brazil’s former President, Juscelino Kubitschek, the creator of the capital city of Brasilia and himself a physician, brought his daughter to Arigo for successful treatment. It is a fact that Arigo brought about medically confirmed cures in cases of cancer and other fatal diseases that had been given up as hopeless by leading doctors and hospitals in some of the most advanced countries in the Western world.

But none of these facts, all carefully brought together and examined, can add up to an explanation. And it is for this reason that this story is so difficult to write….

It was difficult to write. But not half so difficult as encountering an hysterical diatribe (certainly not a critique) by a person who is so afraid to face facts and history that he descends to unprecedented levels of calumny.

This reviewer seems to want to rewrite Brazilian history, and to pretend that Arigo never existed. He ignores the conservatism with which the book is written, and the central thrust of the entire story: There exist certain phenomena which have yet to be explained. Science is just beginning to explore these by-passed pockets. They should be cautiously explored under meticulous controls.

This is exactly what the book says. Yet your reviewer utilizes two-and-a-half columns of your space to vilify documented records which are plain and simple facts. I went to great pains not to extrapolate.

There are two independent advance reviews from highly-respected publishing trade journals which seem to take a totally different point of view in reviewing the book:

  1. Publisher’s Weekly: “How Arigo did what he did remains a subject for wonder and conjecture. That he was a psychic healer of phenomenal powers the reader of this well-documented study will hardly doubt.”

  2. The Kirkus Reviews: “…his immaculately objective report will unnerve the most stalwart skeptic…. Fuller does not proselytize….

But it is not simply a divergence of opinion that surfaces here. Your reviewer has made statements which go so far beyond the bounds of decency that I am stunned that anyone could stoop to such a level.

I will quote one sentence from your reviewer which is so appalling that I cannot believe you permitted it to appear. It states: “More than one reader of Fuller’s book may die a needless death because he read it.”

When I saw that in print I can only say that I was in a state of shock. How could any person, even with the most distorted mind, make such a statement if he had read the book?

Your reviewer precedes this statement with the following sentence: “Fuller’s book is just persuasive enough to convince some fuzzy minded readers, with curable ailments, to stop seeing their physicians and fly to Brazil or to the Philippines to be mangled by psychic quacks….”

In stating this, your reviewer has made it a point to ignore the following statements in my book:

  1. Many reports have come from the Philippines about feats of surgery by untutored and untrained psychics there, but there has been a constant exposure of trickery in their work. Further, their lack of cooperation with medical researchers has made their case untenable. [Page viii]

  2. There had been psychics in the Philippines who claimed to do surgery similar to Arigo’s, but they had been easily exposed as fakes, and had refused direct observation in full daylight. [Page 249]

All through this review, your reviewer implies that the Arigo book is irresponsible and undocumented; that it gives a blanket support to unregulated practice of medicine; that it recommends that people stop seeing their own doctors in favor of such practices that Arigo engaged in.

In implying this, your reviewer is flatly libelous. The book Arigo is the record of a factual, historical phenomenon. It is written in a low key, and with little or no extrapolation. It states very simply: Arigo should have had, before his death, a long, careful, objective medical study by highly qualified medical scientists.

Your reviewer ignores statement after statement in the book which carefully qualify the material in it. It is important that some of these be listed here:

I thought about the story for a long time. It was obvious that, in spite of the considerable amount of medical records available, I would have to go to Brazil and check the story in detail. Nothing could be secondhand in a story like this. It was a chronicle that would have to be verified in every aspect.

But there was another problem. If the story did check out, and the book drew wide readership, what would it do to Arigo and his work? Would people who were desperately ill in the United States spend large sums of money to go to Brazil—only to find Arigo so flooded and exhausted with additional patients that he could not handle them all?” (Page 242).

It was for this reason that I tabled the idea of doing the book at all.

It was only after Arigo was killed that I felt the story should be told, so that there would be absolutely no chance of anyone forsaking conventional medicine. Further, Arigo worked with doctors, not against them. I simply would not have written the book if he were alive, and I said this repeatedly to editors during the two years I knew about the story and held back from writing it. This was another reason that the shock was so great when I read your reviewer’s vicious and unprincipled comment about a reader suffering a “needless death” because of the book. Over and over again, it goes through my mind: How could a man write this about an author? What possible motive does he have? This isn’t literary criticism, this is intolerable cruelty.

In combing the voluminous trial records, I found that they recorded time after time that there was no testimony that Arigo had harmed anyone is his quarter of a century practice. Furthermore, your reviewer ignores the fact that I have and quote the opinions of many doctors and scientists who observed and investigated Arigo.

Further statements in the book refute your reviewer’s unprincipled accusations:

Even those who were convinced of Arigo’s validity felt he could not go on with his practice in an open, uncontrolled situation. Unscrupulous charlatans, inspired by Arigo, would proliferate throughout the country, with utterly disastrous results for the public” (page 122).

Khator [a Brazilian newsman] was convinced that instead of being prosecuted, Arigo should be supported by funds for a special scientific study. In this way, Arigo would be placed under the control of licensed doctors—a necessary step [Italics added] to prevent uncontrolled charlatanism from proliferating….” (page 133).

The only possible track to take would be to ask for a suspended sentence, with a court order placing Arigo in the custody of a group of competent medical doctors who would work with him in trying to unveil the mystery of his powers….” (page 142).

Plans were already taking shape under the aegis of several Brazilian doctors to build a hospital in Conghonas where permission would be obtained to have Arigo continue to work under the direct supervision of Brazilian medical men. If there had been some way to foster this type of project at the time of the first court process, perhaps some real clue to Arigo’s rare effectiveness would have already been available….” (page 209).

Perhaps Dr. Oswaldo Conrado, the cardiology specialist from Sao Paulo, summed up the most interesting attitude from the point of view of the medical profession when he said: ‘If doctors were able to open up new hope for patients, it would be a wonderful experience. When I find that I am directly confronted with a hopeless case, and when every possible medical avenue is closed, I see no reason not to look for other means. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t.’

The facts about Arigo exist. They have happened, simply and naturally. A commission of scientists, free from preconceived ideas must study him, and study him thoroughly. We might be on the edge of discovering entirely new and extremely beneficial therapeutic resources” (page 219).

Do these typical statements sound like a book which would cause a reader to “die a needless death because he read it”? Do they indicate that the book recommends patients give up their own doctors to go to Arigo, if he were alive? Do they indicate “despicable medical journalism,” as your reviewer has written and would have his readers believe?

John G. Fuller

Peterboro, New Hampshire

Martin Gardner replies:

There is no way to reply adequately to Mr. Fuller short of writing a book on scientific method, the ethics of medical journalism, and how to distinguish anecdotes from facts. If Mr. Fuller can believe he is stating a “plain and simple fact” when he describes an operation during which Arigo slices open a woman, drops in a pair of scissors, then watches while the scissors, animated by a mysterious force unknown to science, move by themselves until a malignant tumor is cut out; if he can believe that his collection of miracle tales, unrelieved by a single note of humor or skepticism, is “well-documented” and “immaculately objective,” then his mind-set is so different from mine (or from that of anyone I know) that communication is impossible.

It is true that no reader of Mr. Fuller’s book can go to Brazil to be treated by Arigo in the flesh, because Arigo is dead. And it is true that Mr. Fuller has a low opinion of psychic surgeons in the Philippines. But Mr. Fuller speaks highly in his book of other Brazilian “doctors,” carrying on Arigo’s Spiritist surgery, and any reader impressed by Mr. Fuller’s book will be just as impressed by the equally fulsome accounts, by equally respectable journalists, of the Philippine healers. (See Tom Valentine’s Psychic Surgery, published by Regnery, or Harold Sherman’s report on “Psychic Surgery in the Philippines” in Martin Ebon’s anthology, The Psychic Reader.) Both Brazilian and Philippine psychic surgeons are among the many charlatans whom some poor reader of Mr. Fuller’s book, suffering from an affliction, will try to locate.

They are not hard to find. Indeed, Arigo’s rival, the Spiritist surgeon Lourival de Freitas, is regarded by many students of the occult as even more sensational a healer than Arigo. Anne Dooley, writing on “Psychic Surgery in Brazil” in Psychic, January, 1973, devotes most of her article to de Freitas. Like Arigo, he gives his patients “eye checkups” (extruding the eyeball with a knife). Like Arigo he operates under the direction of discarnate spirits. Like Arigo, he accepts no payments. Like Arigo, he is a heavy drinker. If Mr. Fuller believes he has written an objective account of Arigo, one would suppose that he would feel obligated to call attention to this healer’s similar abilities. Yet nowhere in Arigo is Lourival de Freitas even mentioned. If Mr. Fuller considers this man a fraud, it would be interesting to know what criteria Mr. Fuller employs for distinguishing between the miracle tales that are told about both men.

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