NM Senator’s Miracle Cure Merely Mistake, Misdiagnosis

December 29, 2008

Recently I came across a front-page headline in my local newspaper, about a state senator here in New Mexico whose brain disease may have been cured by God through the power of prayer. "Brain Disease Either Gone or Stalled," was the front page article’s subhead.

I wrote a column about this for LiveScience.com; here’s an overview of the case: Last year Senator Pete Domenici announced his retirement, he explaining that he had a degenerative and fatal brain disease. A year later Domenici issued a surprise announcement: his disease had gone away, or at least not gotten any worse.

He got the good news when, earlier in the year, he had offered to take part in a clinical trial of people who had the specific type of disease he had been diagnosed with, frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Domenici was contacted by the lead doctor in the trial study and told he didn’t qualify for the trial because the tests couldn’t find a link between the Senator’s symptoms and his frontal lobe. "I concluded… that I must not have the disease," Domenici said in a N ov. 26 interview with the   Albuquerque Journal , adding that he may have been healed by God through the power of prayer. His sister, a nun, has been asking God for help, and people Domenici meets often tell him that they are praying for him.

Yet both the leader of the trial study and the doctor who first diagnosed Domenici say that there is clear evidence of Domenici’s brain disease and resulting cognitive disorder; the disease did not go away. It’s just that the specific   cause of the disease didn’t seem to be the frontal lobe, as the originally thought, and may not be as bad as had been feared.

The impression of a miracle cure can be created by something as simple as a misdiagnosis. I’ve written about this in the past many times. Hope can be wonderful and healing, but patients who mistake a misdiagnosis for a miracle are setting themselves up for disappointment.

As a skeptic, I try to be careful with stories like this. I don’t want to come off as the negative, naysaying, nasty skeptic dashing desperate people’s hopes. On the other hand, I think that giving false hope is far more cruel. It takes more than a faulty lab test, X-ray, or diagnosis to create a medical miracle. Real miracle cures are the result of careful, hard work by scientists, doctors, and medical researchers.



#1 Jeff P (Guest) on Monday December 29, 2008 at 8:52am

Yep, a work colleague had a nuclear scan that was mistakenly taken of her abdomen instead of her chest.  She was discovered to have had a “lesion” in her liver. 

My work colleagues attributed this bit of serendipity to God’s intervention—how else might such a lesion have been discovered if not for the intervention of God to persuade the radiology tech to do the wrong study?  And now this illness could be addressed in a timely fashion.

After several more studies including MRI, ultrasound and plain films, with a consultation with an oncologist/surgeon, the lesion was determined to be an incidental, benign finding.

Now, thanks goes to God for allowing it all to be a grand mistake, and of no consequence.  God wins both times, but I’m sure my insurance premiums will be up next year.

#2 John Donaldson (Guest) on Monday December 29, 2008 at 2:26pm

I have just received my first “Centre for Inquiry Canada Freethinker’s Newsletter” by snail mail. It would be much less expensive for you to send the newsletter by e-mail to those people outside of the immediate Toronto area.


#3 currmudgeon76 (Guest) on Monday December 29, 2008 at 5:08pm

Every time I am asked to make corrections on my V.A. records, I list my religion as “none”. The papers; however, always come back as “unknown/undecided. Do any other secularist, V.A. users find this annoying & disrespectful?

#4 Larry Kueneman (Guest) on Monday December 29, 2008 at 7:46pm

I recall, years ago, standing at the edge of a crystal-clear lake in Michigan with my wife, who stood barefoot in about three inches of water with at least forty tiny minnows nibbling at her toes.  That, unfortunately, is precisely how I view most commentary having to do with free inquiry, humanism, and their related publications — nibbling at the edges of real questions.  It seems most of us feel insecure in stating clearly that we do not believe that God exists. 
  I really don’t know how long it took me to reach that conclusion, but I have been working on my beliefs for more than sixty-five years of my life.  My questioning actually began around age ten, and most of my life has been devoted to determining specifically what I do believe to be true, and how the world got the way it is regarding spiritual beliefs.
  In 1902, Rudyard Kipling, in the first four lines of a sixteen line poem entitled “The Elephants Child” wrote of the six words forming the basis of journalistic effort:

      I kept six honest serving men.
      They taught me all I knew.
      Their names were What, and Where and Why,
      And How, and When, and Who.

  The order in which the words are presented appears to be in dispute, but the meaning is clear.
  Today, I can envision a member of a small family tribe standing at the edge of his cave somewhere around two million years ago.  His species has not yet developed a spoken language, but a level of communication does exist that consists of grunts, sign language, body language and eye movements, and touching. 
  As he stands there on the edge, he thinks of the many forms of the violence of nature he experiences and asks himself questions.  Four of Kipling’s words are words of science that only come thousands of years later, leaving the man in the cave just What and Who.  And without a spoken language even what and who would have been in concept form.  The actions of nature he observes are clearly the what, with who the only thought left — who caused that, or what super being caused that.  Although in rudimentary form, this (and many other similar experiences) would have been the origin of gods.
  Between thirteen and ten thousand years ago tribes came together to form societies, and contrary to the common belief that the invention of agriculture enabled the forming of societies, it was likely the forming of societies that generated the invention of agriculture.  But another need was found with the forming of societies that would take more than ten thousand years to shake out.  That was the consolidation of many gods into the belief in just one God.  The Jews were the first.  They had been arguing on the subject for almost two thousand years, and finally settled religionwide on a single God about the year 70.  The Christians were next, settling on a single God in a turbulent period between 425 and 485, with the followers of Islam settling on Allah in the seventh century
  The invention of gods, and then God, was deemed insufficient by societies who also invented religions to control the whole thing (the corporatization of God).  All this seemingly based on failing to understand the actions of nature.  However, the single event that seems to be the basis of religions and their insistence on God has been the fact that man, even today does not understand death.  Of course, that is because we also do not understand what causes life.
  No matter.  There are questions I can leave unanswered, hoping science will one day find an answer.  Until that day comes, I am content to understand that God was an invention of man.
  God, and his religions has been the single greatest excuse for wars, for the “otherness” that we allow to separate ourselves, and for the excuses we find for treating others in any manner other than we would like to be treated.  We must remember that the admonition “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” existed centuries before being adopted by religions, and in a world of the confusion of hundreds of gods.

#5 JOSEPH J VILLADEMOROS (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 5:13am

I’m bothered by the fact that God always gets the credit , but not the blame. Instead of curing a blind person. Why doesn’t God just eliminate blindness?
“Theism is nothing more than man’s manifestation of his ignorance of causes.” (JJV)

#6 JOSEPH J VILLADEMOROS (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 5:17am

Really liked your piece. Okay if I plagiarize?

#7 nmtucson (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 11:46am

Larry, beautifully laid out and articulated!

I note the same kind of inexplicable belief-behavior regarding weather events. “I know it was the hand of God that saved us from the tornado’s destruction by leading us into the bathtub.” But wait…god also sent the tornado their way, didn’t he? They never blame him for that, only thank him for saving them. And then I wonder what the survivors think, deep down, about the ones who died: did god not like them well enough to save them too, or were they just “bad”?

It always seems like some kind of sick cosmic joke, but not a very funny one.

#8 Larry Kueneman (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 1:42pm

Joe,  much of what is in that writing will be included in my book now in final edit, entitled “From Tradition to Truth:,” and it’s ok as long as you credit what you write.

#9 David Gortler (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 2:18am

It is certainly hard to believe but really interesting facts.

Thank you for sharing the news.

#10 John Kelly (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 2:53am

Larry, in your post about a single god you left out the Zoroatrians, who were reputed to be the first monotheists - the Jews merely borrowed the idea from them, though it took them centuries of slipping back and forth between multiple gods and monotheism before they finally settled into monotheism.

Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 to bring Rome’s religions, both Christian and Pagan, together because their warring among themselves were threatening the Empire.  The Christians who believed in Jesus’ divinity and most of the rest settled on Divinity and the Pagans became Christians once their holidays were secured as part of the new Christian calendar (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost)  The Pagans and the Divinity Christians were influenced by the Hellenic religion which had several man-gods so accepting Jesus as another was no great leap.  All offending gospels were excluded in favor of the four Canonical gospels, leaving gospels by such notables as Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Phillip, Judas, Peter and others by the wayside.

In short, Christianity, as we know it, owes its beginnings to a Pagan Roman emperor who did it for political and security reasons.  The new church was headquartered in Rome and became the Catholic Church after several schisms differentiated the Roman church from the various orthodox religions that sprang up.

I have found some short histories of that reorganization of religious structure at Nicea but they always seem to be written by Christian apologists.  Does anyone know of histories written from a more secular view?

#11 Larry Kueneman (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 12:26pm

Two responses here.
David G.  Could you expand on your comment?

John K.  Right on target.  The Zoroastrians aren’t all I left out, however

#12 Larry Kueneman (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 12:43pm

Something interesting took place at the Council of Nicea that few people know about.  Prior to that time, people knew that an event took place in the third year of the reign of King Whoever, but no one had a clue what numbered year they were speaking of, or what year it was currently.  At Nicea, scribes went through what I can imagine as hundreds of documents tracing their way back to the birth of Jesus, which they determined to by 325 years before, making the year in which they were working the year 325.  Considering what they had to work with they were remarkably accurate.  Our modern records indicate that Jesus was born within a range of years from up to four years prior to that estimated at Nicea to four years afterwards, leaving a window of eight years in which modern estimator-types feel Jesus was actually born. So there.

#13 John Kelly (Guest) on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 4:08am

Larry.  All I have to say is nyah, nyah to you, too.

Wait!  There’s more.  There is no historical support for King Herod’s reputed slaying all male children under age six as is said in one of the gospels (I seem to have mislaid my New Testament). 

I’ve been reading The Bible Unearthed - Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts.  What!?  No Exodus!?  No slaughter of the Caananites!?  Assimilation instead of conquest!?  What’s a guy to believe any more?

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