Thursday, March 30, 2006

What good is faith if it is not translated into action? (Gandhi)

The common plea to "pray for me" doesn't seem to matter in the outcomes of patients having coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG), according to a multicenter study led by a Harvard group.

In a six-hospital randomized study of the clinical effects having others pray for them, there was no benefit. "Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG," found Herbert Benson, M.D., of the Mind/Body Institute of Harvard's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center here, and colleagues. The prayers all came from persons unknown to the patients. The prayers that were offered were standardized. There was an average of 70 strangers praying for each prayed-for patient.

In fact, the complication rate was significantly higher for the 352 of 601 patients (59%) who were confident that others were praying for them, compared with the 315 of 604 (52%) of patients uncertain of such prayers. The complications were primarily atrial fibrillation.

The authors addressed an important limitation of the study. "We did not request that subjects alter any plans for family, friends, and/or members of their religious institutions to pray for them," they wrote.

"At enrollment, most subjects did expect to receive prayers from others, regardless of their participation in the study. We also recognize that subjects may have prayed for themselves. Thus, our study subjects may have been exposed to a large amount of non-study prayer, and this could have made it more difficult to detect the effects of prayer provided by the intercessors."

Nevertheless, the study was still well-controlled, long term, and had many participants.

Paul Kurtz, professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, had a blunt response when asked why he thought the study found no effect of prayer.

"Because there is none," he said. "That would be one answer."

He added that while he tries to keep an open mind, he's seen no good evidence for such an effect in past studies. The new work, he said, "gives added emphasis to those who have been skeptical."

Dr. David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, said he believes intercessory prayer can influence medical outcomes, but that science is not equipped to explore it.

As for the new study, he said, "I don't think ... it's going to stop people praying for the sick."

I suggest that we spend time with those fighting disease. We call them often. We email them frequently. We visit and spend quality time with them.

Studies show that it may very well be the social support that benefits individuals who are regular churchgoers. Frequent church attendees have almost three times as many social support contacts as non-attendees. So, if you want to help, how about spending time with your friends and loved ones when it's most needed?

There's an old African proverb: "When we pray, we move our feet."

Let's act to really benefit others.

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