Effect of retroactive intercessory prayer

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7344.1037 (Published 27 April 2002)
Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1037

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Cautious approach is needed

  1. Andrew M Thornett (andrew.thornett@unisa.edu.au), deputy head
  1. Adelaide University Rural Clinical School, University Campus, Whyalla, South Australia 5608, Australia
  2. Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA
  3. University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD
  4. Parkplace Health Centre, Darlington DL1 5LW
  5. Erlangen University, Lehrstuhl für Optik, Friederich Alexander Universitat, D-91058 Erlangen, Germany
  6. Sunderland Royal Hospital, Sunderland SR4 7TP
  7. Chameleon Medical Communications, Park House, London W5 5TL
  8. Cognitive Sciences Laboratory 90212, 147 Pinewood Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23451, USA
  9. Bishop's University, Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada J1M 1Z7
  10. Department of Medicine, Beilinson Campus, Rabin Medical Center, Petah-Tiqva 49100, Israel

    EDITOR—Leibovici used rigorous scientific method in his study to explore the role of intercessory prayer in health care.1 Using a randomised controlled trial design with a large group of patients and selecting a range of appropriate outcome measures, he showed a significant difference in length of stay and duration of fever and concluded that prayer may be a useful treatment.

    These results, however, need to be interpreted with caution. There was no significant difference between the two groups with regard to the most clinically important outcome (mortality), and the median values varied little between prayer and non-prayer on both length of stay (seven and eight days) and duration of fever (two days each). The religious affiliation of the person saying the prayer is not given. Many religious groups do not accept the power of prayer given by those with different beliefs. If real, the effect of prayer shown in this study may be unrelated to supernatural power and hence to a particular belief system, or may be specific to beliefs, reflecting the power inherent in a particular religion. Further work is needed in this area before conclusions can be made.

    References

    1. 1.

    Paper proves power of statistics, not prayer

    1. Shehan Hettiaratchy (shehan.hettiaratchy@tbrc.mgh.harvard.edu), fellow, transplantation biology,
    2. Carolyn Hemsley, Wellcome Trust fellow in microbiology
    1. Adelaide University Rural Clinical School, University Campus, Whyalla, South Australia 5608, Australia
    2. Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA
    3. University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD
    4. Parkplace Health Centre, Darlington DL1 5LW
    5. Erlangen University, Lehrstuhl für Optik, Friederich Alexander Universitat, D-91058 Erlangen, Germany
    6. Sunderland Royal Hospital, Sunderland SR4 7TP
    7. Chameleon Medical Communications, Park House, London W5 5TL
    8. Cognitive Sciences Laboratory 90212, 147 Pinewood Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23451, USA
    9. Bishop's University, Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada J1M 1Z7
    10. Department of Medicine, Beilinson Campus, Rabin Medical Center, Petah-Tiqva 49100, Israel

      EDITOR—It was very brave of both Leibovici and the BMJ to publish this paper and be prepared for the criticism from the outraged masses.1 The idea that retroactive intercessory prayers could have an influence on the outcome of septicaemia is intriguing and challenges our notions of cause and effect. If it is true, however, this is not the paper to prove it.

      The data on the most significant finding, length of stay, seem to be skewed by a few abnormally high results in the control group. This is shown by the fact that the median length of stay is the same in both groups but the maximum length …

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