Surgeon Cuts Loose, Tells All: Unnecessary Surgery – a LOT of It!

Patients Want It, Surgeons Want It, So What's the Problem? Um, Ethics?
Patients Want It, Surgeons Want It, So What’s the Problem? Um, Ethics? Money?

Surgeon: “Many Surgeries Little Better Than Placebo”

An Australian surgeon has published a book admitting that he performed a shocking number of unnecessary surgeries, known to be ineffective and even dangerous, all at the behest of patients who demanded them.

Orthopedic surgeon Ian Harris, who operates at a number of hospitals in Sydney and at the University of NSW, has stated that he had often performed “surgery that doesn’t work.” He was quick to add that currently he performs much fewer ineffective surgeries than before.

In his book “Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo,” Harris adds: “I have operated on people that didn’t have anything wrong with them in the first place. This happens because if a patient complains enough to a surgeon, one of the easiest ways of satisfying them is to operate.”

Is this about the patient taking ownership of his own treatment or about greedy, unethical professional?

There are few activities in this modern world that engender more fear than going into surgery. There are of course the risks to life and limb—quite literally in some cases. There is a never-ending stream of stories of surgical instruments left inside patients after their surgery is completed, sponges left in the thoracic cavity causing infection, the wrong surgery performed on the wrong person, the wrong limb removed–the list goes on and on.

So when you think about what could spur a person to actually WANT to go under the knife, and then you consider the surgeon who would accommodate such a patient even if there was no pressing medical need, the mind boggles.

But that is the situation we face in terms of the reliance on the machinery of modern medicine. We are conditioned to look to our Doctor-Saviors to fix us as if we were a Ferrari with a bent frame–or, for some of us, a Volkswagen Bug wheezing along flaking rust everywhere we go.

Any and all alternatives to “standard operating procedures” are smugly dismissed by the establishment–which not coincidentally makes its money from said procedures.

Another quote from Dr. Harris’ book makes the point: “Our research unit reviewed all orthopedic surgical procedures performed in three large public hospitals in our local area and found that of about 9000 procedures performed, only about half of the operations performed had been compared to non-operative treatment in randomized trials.”

So the truth is that a surgery-happy public is perhaps partly to blame. But we cannot forget the establishment that reaches for the shotgun of surgical fixes when a host of more nuanced and less traumatic cures might be available and when the surgical treatments themselves are untested and unscientific.

Perhaps the answer is, as with all things medical these days, educate yourself. If you think you might need surgery, know the success rate for the procedure, and know your surgeon. Ask your doctor about all other options–all of them. You might be surprised at what he or she says.

If you find that your doctor does not know whether the procedure has been validated or why it is being done, don’t do it.

Buyer beware: in this age of information with everything available on demand on the internet, the one thing we have no excuse for is not doing our research and naively trusting an ill-informed or greedy doctor.

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