CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Results of Prayer Study Suggestive

The "most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness," involving more than 1,800 patients, suggests that prayer either did not work, or worse, created complications.

"Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found," reported the New York Times in "Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer" by Benedict Cary (March 31, 2006). "And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested."

The article reports that the study cost $2.4 million, and most of the money came from the John Templeton Foundation, which supports research into spirituality.

The methodology was as follows:

"In the study, the researchers monitored 1,802 patients at six hospitals who received coronary bypass surgery, in which doctors reroute circulation around a clogged vein or artery. The patients were broken into three groups. Two were prayed for; the third was not. Half the patients who received the prayers were told that they were being prayed for; half were told that they might or might not receive prayers. The researchers asked the members of three congregations -- St. Paul's Monastery in St. Paul; the Community of Teresian Carmelites in Worcester, Mass.; and Silent Unity, a Missouri prayer ministry near Kansas City -- to deliver the prayers, using the patients' first names and the first initials of their last names. The congregations were told that they could pray in their own ways, but they were instructed to include the phrase, 'for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications.'"

Analyzing complications in the 30 days after the operations, the researchers found no differences between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not.

The study seems to contradict earlier ones showing a positive effect of prayer.

Even if prayer were conclusively shown to be effective, though, the mechanism still would remain unknown.

As to the complications, investors surmised that knowing that one was being prayed for could have caused anxiety, leading to physical disturbances. At least that contains some acknowledgement of the mind-body connection!

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Michael H. Cohen, Esq.; 468 North Camden Dr. | Beverly Hills, California 90210 | 310-844-3173