[Washington Post, free registration required]
"Praying for other people to recover from an illness is ineffective, according to the largest, best-designed study to examine the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.Last week I posted Researchers Look at Prayer and Healing, which made reference to an upcoming research article which would report that there was no discernable effect of intercessory prayer on the health of patients. The article will appear in the April 4th issue of the American Heart Journal.
The study of more than 1,800 heart-bypass patients found that those who had people praying for them had as many complications as those who did not. In fact, one group of patients who knew they were the subject of prayers fared worse.
The long-awaited results, the latest in a series of studies that have not found any benefit from "distant" or "intercessory" prayer, came as a blow to those hoping scientific research would validate the popular notion that people can influence others' health, even if the sick do not know that someone is praying for them.
The researchers cautioned that the study was not designed to test the existence of God or the benefit of other types of prayer, such as praying for oneself or praying at the bedside of friends or relatives. They also did not rule out that other types of distant prayer may be effective for other types of patients...."
Note that the researchers acknowledge the limitations of their methods in the last paragaph of the above excerpt. One of the authors, Charles Bethea, suggested that the group that knew they were being prayed for might have been under increased stress as a result of that knowledge -- in Bethea's words, "Did the patients think, 'I am so sick they had to call in the prayer team?' "
Doctors I have spoken with are quick to point out that there are a lot of intangibles affecting the course of healing, and that individual attitude and the support of family and friends has an effect on healing. No physician I have spoken with dismisses prayer as a useful adjunct to healing, and many are quite sure that it has a beneficial effect.
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