Study: Prayer doesn't affect heart patients
Thursday, March 30, 2006; Posted: 2:26 p.m. EST (19:26 GMT)
NEW YORK (AP) -- In the largest study of its kind, researchers found
that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no
effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being
prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.
Researchers emphasized their work does not address whether God exists
or answers prayers made on another's behalf. The study can only look
for an effect from prayers offered as part of the research, they said.
They also said they had no explanation for the higher complication
rate in patients who knew they were being prayed for, in comparison to
patients who only knew it was possible prayers were being said for
The work, which followed about 1,800 patients at six medical centers,
was financed by the Templeton Foundation, which supports research into
science and religion. It will appear in the American Heart Journal.
Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists
tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular
patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two
weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick,
healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients, for whom
they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.
The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600
apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were
prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't
prayed for but were told it was a possibility.
The researchers did not ask patients or their families and friends to
alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have
been unethical and impractical.
The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery.
Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But
59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for
developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it
was just a possibility.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality,
Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who did not
take part in the study, said the results did not surprise him.
"There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no
real theological grounds to expect a result either," he said.
Science, he said, "is not designed to study the supernatural."
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