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Secret to a speedy recovery: no prayers, please

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 01, 2006 6:40 pm    Post subject: Secret to a speedy recovery: no prayers, please Reply with quote

Secret to a speedy recovery: no prayers, please

By Benedict Carey in New York
April 1, 2006

PRAYERS offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people undergoing heart surgery, a large study has found.

In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had higher rates of post-operative complications, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers findings have suggested.

Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.

At least 10 studies of the effects of prayer have been carried out in the last six years, with mixed results. The latest study was intended to overcome flaws in the earlier investigations. The report was scheduled to appear in The American Heart Journal next week, but the journal's publisher released it online on Thursday.

The study's authors, led by Dr Herbert Benson, director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, said the findings were not the last word on the effects of "intercessory" prayer. But the results raised questions about how and whether patients should be told prayers were being offered for them.

The researchers monitored 1802 patients at six hospitals who had coronary bypass surgery.

The patients were broken into three groups. Two were prayed for; the third was not. Half the patients who received the prayers were told they were being prayed for; half were told they might or might not receive prayers.

Prayers were performed by members of three Christian groups in monasteries and elsewhere - two Catholic and one Protestant - who were given written prayers and the first name and initial of the last name of the prayer subjects. The prayers started on the eve of or day of surgery and lasted for two weeks.

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

But a significantly higher number of patients who knew they were being prayed for - 59 per cent - suffered complications, compared with 51 per cent who were uncertain. The authors left open the possibility this was a chance finding. But they said being aware of the strangers' prayers may also have caused some patients a kind of performance anxiety.

The study also found more patients in the prayer group - 18 per cent - suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 per cent in the group that did not receive prayers.

In their report, the researchers suggested that this finding might also be a result of chance.

One of the authors of the findings, Reverend Dean Marek, director of chaplain services at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, added: "Our study was never intended to address the existence of God or the presence or absence of intelligent design in the universe."

The New York Times, Reuters


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