Bioethics Discussion Blog: The Power of Prayer as Medical Therapy

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Power of Prayer as Medical Therapy

An interesting study regarding how powerful prayer may be was recently published in which some of the patients undergoing percutaneous coronary artery treatment were prayed for by “established congregations of various religions” off-site so that neither the physician nor the patient knew that they were the objects of the prayer. Any subsequent adverse reactions and death were determined and compared to other patients who had only standard care or those who had direct (unhidden) music, imagery and touch therapy alone or along with the hidden prayer.

Here is a summary of a study as written in the Lancet July 16, 2005 (pages 211-217) by Mitchell W Krucoff et al titled
“Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study”


Summary
Background
Data from a pilot study suggested that noetic therapies—healing practices that are not mediated by tangible elements—can reduce preprocedural distress and might affect outcomes in patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention. We undertook a multicentre, prospective trial of two such practices: intercessory prayer and music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy.

Methods
748 patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention or elective catheterisation in nine USA centres were assigned in a 2×2 factorial randomisation either off-site prayer by established congregations of various religions or no off-site prayer (double-blinded) and MIT therapy or none (unmasked). The primary endpoint was combined in-hospital major adverse cardiovascular events and 6-month readmission or death. Prespecified secondary endpoints were 6-month major adverse cardiovascular events, 6 month death or readmission, and 6-month mortality.

Findings
371 patients were assigned prayer and 377 no prayer; 374 were assigned MIT therapy and 374 no MIT therapy. The factorial distribution was: standard care only, 192; prayer only, 182; MIT therapy only, 185; and both prayer and MIT therapy, 189. No significant difference was found for the primary composite endpoint in any treatment comparison. Mortality at 6 months was lower with MIT therapy than with no MIT therapy (hazard ratio 0·35 (95% CI 0·15–0·82, p=0·016).

Interpretation
Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterisation or percutaneous coronary intervention.


How much faith one can put into this single study would be a matter of debate amongst research statisticians. However, while no benefit to the patient was found in the defined primary endpoints, the benefit of praying for an ill patient without the patient’s knowledge may have some personal value for the one doing the praying. This was not evaluated in this study. ..Maurice.

3 Comments:

At Friday, September 02, 2005 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Alyssa said...

As much as I find research of this nature interesting, I am not convinced that it really matters. Trying to scientifically quantify the importance of an existential action is difficult and not necessarily useful. If someone find prayer (of their own or from others) to be beneficial in some way, does it really matter if it provides physiological improvement? Certainly, such an improvement would be great, but I don't think that physiological responses should be the means by which we measure the value of prayer. What about other types of relief that prayer sometimes provides? In thinking about the value of prayer as medical therapy, I think that we should look beyond the physical symptoms of illness and consider the existential value of prayer. Just because prayer cannot necessarily stave off death or illness doesn't mean that it can't help some patients have more peaceful experiences.

The study leaves one with the impression that prayer is not valuable in healing illness. Is that the sole purpose of prayer? I don't think so.

The double blinded approach to this prayer study seems strange. While I understand that scientifically, double blinded studies are particularly valuable, I don’t know that that value is very interesting when studying the effects of prayer. I think that it would be more interesting to study patients who value prayer to know that others are praying for them and pray themselves. There are, of course, some studies on this type of approach out there.

I guess that in my heart, I don’t need a scientific study to try to quantify the value of prayer for me to see its value. While I am not a super religious person, I see immense value in existential endeavors, whether they be prayer, chants, meditation, or reflection.

 
At Tuesday, October 04, 2005 4:51:00 PM, Anonymous gasman said...

" I think that it would be more interesting to study patients who value prayer to know that others are praying for them and pray them" from the above post.

I'm not certain what this would establish. Even when there is no prayerful act, people feel better when they believe others are thinking of them. An atheist would likely be comforted to think that his friends are thinking about him and wishing him well. That anyone then has a positive mood feels better and possibly has slightly altered physiology is not such a stretch of the immagination.

In this case, instead of double blinding, perhaps the effect of prayer study could compare the effect of the recipient knowing or not knowning whether they are being prayed for. Likewise the same could be done for the atheist study arm and substitue positive affirmation or some such thing, for prayer to a deity. My guess is that the deity would choose to remain hidden (theist's interpretation) or absent (atheist's interpretation).

 
At Thursday, April 27, 2006 9:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We only wish the nun wanted to pray for our sick family member. We were distraught over the hospital trying to stick a feeding tube and incarcerate our family member in long term care. They called for an "ethics" meeting. A nun came and all she did was try to convince us we must go to that "ethics" meeting and that it would be "good for the patient". She didn't even want to go into the patient's room. We insisted because she had never even met the patient. (How dare she discuss this patient's life without even a handshake? Insulting!) She finally did but left within seconds. What she saw was a patient sitting up and eating and enjoying a visit with the grandkids and who obviously did not need a feeding tube. The next day she went to the "ethics" meeting and lied through her moustache about the patient's condition. It's all there at theangrypatient.com if you want to read about it.

I guess the point is that prayer works for people who believe in it and not just because someone cloaked in the black robe of faith is praying for them. We like to refer to our form of prayer as meditation and it works due to the power of the mind itself, not some unseen entity. btw - the patient is alive and well and no feeding tube nearly a year and a half later. We wonder, did Teri Schiavo REALLY need a feeding tube. We believe that the whole feeding tube controversy is all about money. Doesn't some sort of State funding like medicaid or something like that kick in when patients are incarcerated in long term care with feeding tubes?? Maybe someone knows?

Sincerely,
The Angry Patient 2

 

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