A study of more than 1,800 patients who underwent
heart bypass surgery has failed to show that prayers
specially organized for their recovery had any impact,
In fact, the study found some of the patients who
knew they were being prayed for did worse than others
who were only told they might be prayed for -- though
those who did the study said they could not explain
The patients in the study at six U.S. hospitals
included 604 who were actually prayed for after
being told they might or might not be; another 597
patients who were not prayed for after being told
they might or might not be; and a group of 601 who
were prayed for and told they would be the subject
of such prayer.
The praying was done 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.
Among the first group -- who were prayed for but
only told they might be -- 52 percent had post-surgical
complications compared to 51 percent in the second
group, the ones who were not prayed for though told
they might be. In the third group, who knew they
were being prayed for, 59 percent had complications.
After 30 days, however, the death rates and incidence
of major complications was about the same across
all three groups, said the study published in the
American Heart Journal.
COMPLICATIONS AFTER SURGERY
"Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on whether
complications occurred (and) patients who were certain
that intercessors would pray for them had a higher
rate of complications than patients who were uncertain
but did receive intercessory prayer," the study
There is "no clear explanation" for the latter
finding, it added.
The study -- called the largest of its kind --
was designed only to try to measure the impact of
intercessory prayer on heart surgery patients, an
intervention that some earlier reports had showed
seemed to be beneficial.
"Our study was never intended to address the existence
of God or the presence or absence of intelligent
design in the universe" or to compare the efficacy
of one prayer form over another, said the Rev. Dean
Marek, director of chaplain services at the Mayo
Clinic, one of the authors.
The patients in the study had similar religious
profiles with most believing in spiritual healing
and almost all also thinking that friends or relatives
would be praying for them as well, he said.
"One caveat is that with so many individuals receiving
prayer from friends and family, as well as personal
prayer, it may be impossible to disentangle the
effects of study prayer from background prayer,"
Manoj Jain of Baptist Memorial Hospital, Memphis,
Tennessee, another author of the report.
The authors said one possible limitation to their
study was that those doing the special praying had
no connection or acquaintance with the subjects
of their prayer, which would not usually be the
"Private or family prayer is widely believed to
influence recovery from illness, and the results
of this study do not challenge this belief," the