An old retired professor of Chemistry, with chronic, almost lifelong bronchial glitches is under another bout of cold and cough. He is worried as ever about how to soothe his lungs and kill the bug. A planned dose of antibiotics, a couple of files of cough syrups including an antitussive and an expectorant are over. All natural, homemade remedies are tried out, but he still coughs. He finds his maid coughing vehemently one day and shares his years of knowledge on the subject. He wonders how this poor lady can manage to take costly pills or even try to home remedies in these days of severe inflation. 3 days later, she comes to work hale and hearty whereas the old man has no improvement in his bronchial profile. She tells that a home remedy given by her mother did the wonder. The ‘pill’ is so cheap and pointless that the old man can’t spare even a minute on taking it seriously. He keeps pondering over the matter though – did his seemingly advantageous position of wisdom of Chemistry, affordability and reasoning sabotage his recovery process? He struggles to find an answer to his nagging cough, whereas the below-poverty-line maidservant continues her normal life.
This is a real life example of a ‘placebo’ to me. Placebo is a hot topic in medical science and a work-in-progress for a while to understand its worth. There is a clear division within experts to judge the ethical grounds on whether to promote placebos or not. Another popular example may be ‘homeopathy’. With due respect to Dr. Hanhemann and his followers, I don’t find any strong obligation toward the theory that a homeopathic medicine induces symptoms similar to those in an ailing person and thus heals the ailment in question. I may not see reasons in most of the things about life but homeopathy stretches my imagination beyond the sober threshold of acceptance. Even if there is meat in homeopathy, the easily available forms of its medicines can never be following its cookbook and hence there is a ‘certain’ adulteration of a ‘dubious’ recipe – a double fault of sorts. However I try to advocate for it whenever possible. I would not mind giving a child suffering from a seasonal flu or common indigestion a few globules of sugar instead of a hardcore antibacterial drug, at least to monitor the situation for a day or two. Antibiotics are being prescribed and consumed like cereals, thanks to the nexus between the smart parents who need a quick fix to every problem their wards face and the doctors who are happy to oblige to maintain their sponsors. I would be cautiously positive about placebo effect in such cases. Even if it does not address the organic cause of the issue, it can potentially heal the psychological aspect when administered carefully after a proper risk assessment. Many of the common health symptoms are a matter of time, patience and plain water – some viruses are designed to go numb after 3 days of activity.
Most alternative therapies rely on it. In fact the whole of ‘faith industry’ is indebted to it. A few simple, economic and harmless remedies administered in a controlled environment are not bad for minor hazards. The line between ‘not bad’ and ‘very bad’ however is thin. Since placebos rely largely on the faith of the recipient, gullible preys get duped often by faith dealers. A high risk, low reward scenario is also common; where the results of reckless experiments turn counterproductive. With a broader sense of the word, all our sympathy, wishes and care for the humanity have hidden elements of placebo. What happens if I wish someone luck or health or safety. What’s there in elders’ blessings? I can’t make any difference by congratulating someone on his/her success. These are visual gestures or verbal tokens to tell the other person that I wish I were able to execute what I wish for him/her; but it’s humanly impossible. Let me make a wish instead. In other words, I would be happy if my wishes for him/her come true. All the feel-goodness of this world is essentially made of placebos among many other things, though the packaging may vary wildly from one form to another.