Prayer Has No Positive Effect on Surgery Recovery, Study Finds
Heart-surgery patients who were told that prayer groups were asking God to assist their recovery had a higher complication rate than patients who did not know whether groups were praying for them, according to a study that will be published on Tuesday in the American Heart Journal, the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. The study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, followed about 1,800 heart-surgery patients at six medical centers nationwide (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/31).
Patients were randomly assigned to three groups: one was told it might be the object of prayer and was; one was told it might be the object of prayer and was not; and one was promised it would receive prayer and did (Bor, Baltimore Sun, 3/31).
Volunteers from a Protestant prayer group and two Catholic prayer groups performed the praying in the study. Among both groups of patients that did not know whether they were being prayed for, about 51% had a post-surgical complication.
Among patients who knew others were praying for them, a "statistically significant" 59% had complications, USA Today reports (Szabo, USA Today, 3/31).
Charles Bethea, a cardiologist at Integris Baptist Medical Center and co-author of the study, said the group that was told it was being prayed for might have been "uncertain, wondering, 'Am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?'" (Carey, New York Times, 3/31).
Jeffrey Dusek, a Harvard University psychologist and director of the study, said, "Our study design does not allow us to draw firm conclusions," adding that "any significant findings beg for more explanations" (Baltimore Sun, 3/31).
Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard and a lead researcher for the study, said, "Nothing this study has produced should interfere with people praying for each other."
Harold Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, noted another study on prayer that had similar results and said, "There have now been two big studies ... that show no effect. Let's move on now and direct our money somewhere else" (Gellene/Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 3/31).
Sister Patricia Scanlon, a Carmelite nun at a Towson, Md., monastery who frequently asks God to heal strangers, said, "We pray for complete healing, and sometimes that takes different forms," adding, "It could be spiritual healing, or sometimes an attitude, an acceptance, a preparedness, maybe not being physically healed" (Baltimore Sun, 3/31).