Brits Endorse Flakey Reiki

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In what the British press has characterized as a "ground-breaking" move, the Middlesex Hospital in London has appointed a "healer," whose salary is paid by the country's National Health Service (NHS), to treat young leukemia patients suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.

Several times a week, in 30 minute private sessions with each of several young patients in the hospital's pediatric oncology ward, Graham King, 57, places his hands on different parts of their bodies and "channels" all-healing "cosmic energy" into them. This is troubling because, by funding this and other healers, the NHS is, in effect, giving British governmental sanction to quackery.

King was hired after staff members in the oncology ward heard that he and his wife, a faith healer also funded by the NHS, had produced beneficial effects on patients at another British hospital. It's not that King is unique. He is practicing a mystical, ancient Tibetan technique now called Reiki (pronounced RAY-KEY), which was revived in the 1920s by two Japanese doctors.

Since that time, to hear Reiki devotees tell it, the technique has enjoyed an impressive revival. In U.S., for example, it's especially popular among New Agers. And Reikians claim that a million people around the world administer the energy flow to as many as 60 million recipients. They may be right. Google alone lists 3,640,000 "Reiki" entries from individuals and groups in dozens of countries. Among them, for example, are outfits that advertise Reiki treatments not only for humans but even for horses and pets. One U.S. group goes so far as to claim that Reiki gives its members the power to talk to their dogs, a feat that even I can accomplish, and with minimal energy.

Roughly translated, Reiki means "Universal Life Force Energy". Its practitioners or Masters, by a laying on of the hands and using mystic symbols, "align" the recipient with the vibrations of the "universal life force." Once attuned, one is able to receive the healing "energy" that flows from the hands of the Master. But Reiki's benefits are not confined to people receiving the energy in direct contact with a Reiki Master. He can project this universal energy to distant climes, where it can benefit anyone that he knows needs his succor.

Problem is that, despite modern science's array of ingenious detectors, this miraculous flow of energy has never been measured or even registered. And chances are better than excellent that it never will. How, then, does Reiki have any effect at all on its recipients? Placebo may be the answer. The mere belief that something works has been shown to have modest beneficial effects.

Indeed, Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical school at Exeter and Plymouth universities, believes that any benefits of Reiki may well be all in the mind. "Scientifically it's implausible," he told Britain's The Independent, "because there is no scientific basis to assume that it personal impression after studying the entire literature is that it is unlikely to be more than a placebo effect." So much for mysticism and for Reiki.