Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Beyond Science

Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomised controlled trial

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7327.1450 (Published 22 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1450

Rapid Response:

Leibovici's paper is not "flawless"

Would you accept a RCT in which it is suspected that a considerable
number of individuals in the control group were given the active drug?
Since this study does not offer major precisions about the applied
intervention (e.g. What kind of prayer? Prayers from who? Where was it
made? To what God?), we must assume that any prayer should produce the
same effects, and there is no way to rule out that any individual from the
control group (or his/her relatives) had not prayed to God for their
health during their time of illness. Control subjects, to be considered as
such, must not have received any prayer, at any time (since “God is not
limited by a linear time, as we are”). Therefore, the study is invalid, or
it can lead us to a dangerous conclusion such that a prayer said ten years
later by an unknown person is more effective than one said at the moment
by a beloved one; and its consequent recommendation would be: if you need
God’s help, don’t pray now, do it in a few years, it will be better.
However, even if we accept the study and its conclusions as valid, it
should be reproducible. Let’s suppose, then, that we want to reproduce
this same study, but now with a crossed design (like a RCT in which those
who were initially given placebo will receive the active drug). The
subjects in control group should then improve their condition like those
who received the intervention in the first place. That is obviously
impossible, but… why? What are God’s excuses to not help these people?
None of the following would be acceptable:
- Sorry, there’s nothing I can do, it happened in the past.
- I’m sorry, I have already helped the other group.
- I’m not allowed to help control subjects.

Anyway, it would be enrichening to go on discussing about Religion,
but only a miracle could turn this work into strong evidence about the
effectiveness of praying.
Finally, all this discussion is absolutely irrelevant, since regardless
what science may prove or not, human beings will go on praying, because it
is a matter of faith.
Besides, it is cost-effective.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

17 October 2004
Sergio D Schvartzman
Physician
Neuquen (8300) Argentina