Tuesday, July 19, 2005
The Washington Post discusses a recent study that appears to throw into doubt whether prayers for an individual's return to health may act as a form of medical healing. According to the article,
Praying for sick strangers does not improve their prospects of recovering, according to a large, carefully designed study that casts doubt on the widely held belief that being prayed for can help a person heal.
The study of more than 700 heart patients, one of the most ambitious attempts to test the medicinal power of prayer, showed that those who had people praying for them from a distance, and without their knowledge, were no less likely to suffer a major complication, end up back in the hospital or die.
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Surveys have shown that millions of Americans routinely pray when they are ill or when someone they know is. A growing body of evidence has found that religious people tend to be healthier than average, and that people who pray when they are ill are likely to fare better than those who do not. Many researchers think religious belief and practice can help people by providing social support and fostering positive emotions, which may produce beneficial responses by the body.
But the idea that praying for someone else -- even when he or she is unaware of it -- can affect a person's health has been much more controversial. Several studies have purported to show that such prayer is beneficial, but they have been criticized as deeply flawed. The debate prompted a spate of new studies aimed at avoiding those shortcomings, including the new study, which is the first to test prayer at multiple centers.
I always thought that prayers for others were nice, but I wasn't clear that they could have any actual medical effect. Anyway, I hope that a study will be forthcoming which discusses the harm, or lack of harm, that occurs when a person fails to answer one of those chain e-mail letters.[bm]