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The study by Leibovici is one of few to use rigorous scientific
method 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, the author demonstrated
a statistically significant difference in length of stay and fever
duration and concluded that prayer may be a useful treatment.
However, these results need to be interpreted with caution. There was
no significant difference between the two groups with regards to the most
clinically important outcome (mortality), and the median values varied
little between prayer and non-prayer on both length of stay (7 and 8 days)
and fever duration (2 days each).
The religous affiliation of the person saying the prayer is not
given. Many religous groups do not accept the power of prayer given by
those with different beliefs. If real, the effect of prayer demonstrated
in this study may be unrelated to supernatural power and hence to a
particular belief system, or may be belief-specific, reflecting the power
inherent in a particular religion.Further work is needed in this area
before conclusions can be made.
1. Leibovici, L. Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer
on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomised controlled
trial. BMJ 2001;323:1450-1451.
No competing interests
21 December 2001
Andrew M Thornett
Adelaide University Rural Clinical School, University Campus, Whyalla, South Australia 5608