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Worth a prayer?


Is prayer really an effective therapeutic tool for seriously ill individuals who worship God? The answer, says a southern California internist who studied nearly 400 heart patients over a 10-month period, would seem to be Amen!--but not without some reservations.

The idea of someone praying for the well-being of someone else is hardly new; nevertheless, very little serious scientific research has been done on prayer's effectiveness with hospital patients, and the few studies that have been attempted are inconclusive. To describe and evaluate the effects, if any, of intercessory prayer on a patient's condition and recovery while in the hospital, Dr. Randolph C. Byrd picked at random 393 heart patients admitted to the cardiac care unit of the San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center between August 1982 and May 1983. The patients had agreed to be placed into two groups. Byrd assigned Roman Catholic and Protestant individuals outside the hospital to pray daily to the western world's most-worshipped deity, the Judeo-Christian God, for the well-being and recovery of 192 patients in one group; the remaining 201 patients in the other group were left without assigned persons to pray for them.

Byrd found no significant differences between the two groups at first; however, follow-up studies on all patients revealed slightly fewer medical complications among the first group. Of the various conditions measured, congestive heart failure, cardiopulmonary arrest, and pneumonia were seen less frequently in the prayer group. This same group also used fewer diuretics, antibiotics, and intubation/ventilation procedures than the second, non-prayer group. Finally, Byrd rated 85 percent of the prayer group as having a good medical course after entry (i.e., no new diagnoses, problems or therapies were recorded during these patients' stays), compared with 73 percent of the non-prayer group. A bad hospital course (high morbidity and risk of death, or death itself) was observed in 14 percent of the prayer group, in contrast with 22 percent of the non-prayer group.

Byrd points to several references in the Bible (Genesis 20:17, 18; Numbers 12:13; Acts 28:8) where intercessory prayer was used as a healing mechanism. However, Byrd admits it is possible that the study's intercessors might have prayed for those in the non-prayer group, even though they were expressly told not to. Also, there was no attempt to limit the amount of prayer by the intercessors, nor was anyone hired to check up on the praying individuals to make sure they were doing their jobs. Byrd even allows for the possibility that others not assigned to the study might have been praying alongside the assigned intercessors; then, too, he says, it is impossible to accurately assess just exactly what the Judeo-Christian God actually did and if he did anything because, or in spite of, the prayers of the individuals considered by the researcher to be "born-again" Christians as defined in the Biblical verse John 3:3.

Nevertheless, Dr. John Thomison, editor of the Southern Medical Journal, says he would like to read of further studies exploring this topic more thoroughly. Prayer, believes Thomison, is "about as benign a form of treatment as there is. There is no danger whatsoever." Byrd likewise presumes the effect of prayer to be "beneficial," based on the data presented in the study, as well as the general consensus of almost all the study's patients that "prayer probably helped and certainly could not hurt." (JAMA, January 20, 1989; 261:372. Southern Medical Journal, July 1988; 81:826-829.)
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Title Annotation:prayer as therapy
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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