Pathological Lying: The Story of Paolo Macchiarini
Pathological lying, originally referred to as ‘pseudologia fantastica’, is defined as the permanent, often compulsive and extensive act of lying that may lead to clinically significant dysfunctions in one’s social, romantic and occupational life, as such deceptive individuals may pose a danger to themselves or others (Curtis & Hart, 2020). Although pathological lying remains a relatively poorly understood concept, most psychiatrists agree on a few characteristic features that are highly common in pathological liars. According to several authors, pathological lying is marked by repeated expressions of lies that often persist for years, as pathological liars commonly believe that they have more personal benefits from lying than from being truthful. Eventually the lies, which often involve highly complex narratives, become a lifestyle, since deceptive individuals get deeply entangled in their own web of lies and hence cannot free themselves from this self-imposed cycle of complete fabrication (Dike, Baranoski & Griffith, 2005).
The impulse that drives the falsification of reality is believed to be associated with the internal desire to impersonate an ideal character, that has been created by one’s own imagination, suggesting that pathological liars do not discriminate between a fictious reality and their real life. This “double consciousness”, which describes the mental state during which individuals create a deceptive reality as an attempt to realize their desired life, is considered to be the underlying mechanism of pathological lying (Dike, Baranoski & Griffith, 2005). While other individuals may find it difficult to instantly come up with a lie, several authors have proposed that pathological liars commonly tell lies in a highly spontaneous, quick and natural manner, as such lies are believed to be rather impulsive.
Throughout the years, a number of cases involving pathological lying have surfaced and gained extensive amounts of media coverage, such as the infamous story of Paolo Macchiarini, a ‘world-renowned surgeon’ who has deluded a whole nation. In 2008, Macchiarini has gained great prominence within the field of medicine, as he has claimed to have created a seemingly new and revolutionary procedure involving artificial trachea transplants that could potentially change the lives of thousands of individuals all over the world (Rasko & Power, 2018). After being accepted into one of the most prestigious medical universities in Sweden and operating on a total of eleven patients, Macchiarini seemingly brought “the dream of regenerative medicine into reality” (Rasko & Power, 2018). Eventually, his career has reached its peak, as he started to perform several transplant surgeries across the whole world. Entirely unaware of his lies, which included falsified medical reports, scientific articles and even fallacious data within his resumé stating false information on his qualifications and professional experiences, people all around the world highly regarded him for his work.
Due to his lies, ten out of the eleven people who have received an artificial trachea transplant by Macchiarini have lost their lives. Aside from the horrific consequences of Macchiarini’s lies within the medical world, he has additionally claimed that the pope will marry him and his fiancé and that a large number of A-list celebrities are going to attend their wedding. As of today, Macchiarini was found guilty of scientific misconduct and is indicted for aggravated assault (Rasko & Power, 2018).
Personally, I was immediately intrigued when I first heard about pathological lying during class and I believe that this research has provided me with a great insight regarding this topic. It is still difficult to comprehend how someone is able to base their whole identity and reality on lies and to what extend one is willing to tell such bizarre lies. Lying is highly common among humans, however, I am truly interested to know how “normative lying” can eventually assume a pathological form.
Curtis, D. A., & Hart, C. L. (2020). Pathological Lying: Theoretical and Empirical Support for a Diagnostic Entity. Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice, appi.prcp.20190. doi:10.1176/appi.prcp.20190046
Dike, C. C., Baranoski, M., & Griffith, E. E. (2005). Pathological lying revisited. The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 33(3), 342–349.
Rasko, J., & Power, C. (2018, February 14). Dr Con Man: the rise and fall of a celebrity scientist who fooled almost everyone. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/01/paolo-macchiarini-scientist-surgeon-rise-and-fall
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