Effectiveness of "distant healing" prayer:
Mayo clinic 1999. Two studies '89 & 99.
Columbia University 2001. Duke University 2003
Mayo Clinic: Large coronary patient study in 1999:
A randomized controlled trial was conducted between 1997 and 1999. It
involved 799 coronary care unit patients. When they were discharged from the
hospital, half of them were assigned to an intercessory prayer group. Five
persons prayed at least once a week for 26 weeks on behalf of their assigned
patient. Records were kept of the occurrence of a "primary end point"
which included death, cardiac arrest, or coronary revascularization, emergency
department visit for cardiovascular disease, or rehospitalization for
End point reached,
intercessory prayer group
End point reached,
High risk patients
Low risk patients
They concluded that intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical
outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit. 1
Two additional small studies in 1998 & 1999:
Victor Stenger refers to two:
"intercessory prayer studies that have been
published in medical journals, accompanied by great media hype. For example,
cardiologist Randolph Byrd has claimed evidence that coronary patients benefited from blind, distant intercessory prayer. But his p-value is only five
percent. 2 Such results would be expected from statistical fluctuations alone
every twenty experiments, on average. Another study along the same line as
Byrd's has been published in a major medical journal... 3 There, positive results are reported at a p-value
is four percent, but for different criteria than Byrd's. In fact, they fail to
confirm Byrd's specific results." 4
Columbia University "study" of 2001:
This study involving three researchers at prestigious Columbia University in New York, and a very highly respected peer reviewed journal, the Journal
of Reproductive Medicine (JRM). In theory, this research paper appeared both
conclusive and remarkable. It examined the pregnancy rate of 199 women in Seoul,
South Korea who were undergoing in-vitro fertilization. They were randomly
selected to form a test group of 100 and a control group of 99. An extremely
complex prayer protocol was used. Christians in the U.S., Australia, and Canada
prayed over faxed photographs of the Korean women in the test group, praying for
conception success. Other prayers prayed that the first set of prayers would be
successful. A third tier of prayers prayed that the second set would be
successful. Allegedly, none of the women were informed of the study.
The paper reported that 50% of those women who received prayer conceived.
Only 26% of those who were not prayed for became pregnant. Unlike many other
studies before and since, these result were statistically significant (p =
0.0013). The data were overwhelming. Here at last was a solid proof that
anonymous, remote intercessory prayer (IP) actually worked! The press, TV and
other media publicized the results widely.
Dr. Bruce Flamm, a clinical professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of California was puzzled about what he felt were irregularities
in the study. Eventually many strange events are reported as having surfaced:
The report stated that all three researchers started out with the
assumption that IP was ineffective. However, one of the three, Daniel Wirth,
had published many research articles in the past claiming supernatural
healing. Also, Wirth had a law degree and a masters degree in
parapsychology! He was not a medical doctor.
The Journal of Reproductive Medicine allegedly stonewalled
requests for the names of the peer reviewers.
A second researcher, Dr. Kwang Cha, had left Columbia and would not
respond to questions about the study.
The third cited author is Dr. Rogerio Lobo, He was chairman of
obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia. Columbia now claims that he only
provided "editorial review and assistance" with publication of the
Columbia University originally issued a press release, claiming that the
study had several safeguards in place to eliminate bias. They have
subsequently removed it from their web site.
After the article was published. Wirth and another individual were
indicted on various felony charges including 13 counts of mail fraud and 12
counts of interstate transportation of stolen money.
The Journal of Reproductive Medicine removed the article from
their web site. 5
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) started an investigation to determine if there was a lack of
informed consent by the subjects of this study.>5
Although the Columbia University news release listed Dr. Lobo as lead
author, they later admitted to the DHHS that Dr. Lobo first learned of the
study from Dr. Cha six to twelve months after the study was completed.
Flamm authored an article in the Skeptical Inquirer magazine for
2004-SEP. 7 He wrote two
articles in The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine in 2002 and
A Google search using a search string: Wirth, Columbia, prayer revealed about 1,360 hits of which many are skeptical reports of the study.
Others accept the study at face value and cite it as proof that IP works.
Duke University studies - MANTRA study of 2003:
This experiment, Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic TRAinings, was been billed
as "the worlds largest study into the effects of prayer on patients
undergoing heart surgery..." It was led by a cardiologist, Dr. Mitch
Krucoff, and involved 750
angioplasty patients in nine hospitals who were randomly divided into two groups
Both groups were
given normal medical treatment. One of the groups was prayed for by 12 groups
who followed various religions: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.
They were alerted by E-mail as
soon as possible after the patient was enrolled in the trial. This was a
double blind study; none of the hospital staff, or the patients, or the
patients' relatives were aware of which 375 patients were receiving prayer.
The patients were studied for six months to see how they progressed. The
data showed no difference in outcome between the two groups. Prayer
neither helped nor hindered their recovery. 9,10
The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, rejected any
study that "puts God to the test." He said: "Prayer is not a
penny in the slot machine. You can't just put in a coin and get out a
chocolate bar. This is like setting an exam for God to see if God will
pass it or not." He said that the Bible said "very clearly"
that you must not test God. 9
BBC News suggested that:
"Other experts are highly critical of the
concept that the benefits of prayer might be "dose-dependent" - that is,
that the benefits might increase as the number of people praying went
"This is particularly important, as Duke University is at the center of
the US 'Bible belt' - and many of the trial participants, regardless of
whether they were randomized to receive prayer during the trial, would
be getting it from relatives and friends - and of course themselves. 10
That is, their own prayer plus the efforts of
friends and family may produce a type of prayer saturation, so that prayer
by strangers at a distance might not have any additional effect.
Dr Richard Sloan, from the New York
Presbyterian Hospital, described the concept of a prayer "dose" as "absurd".
He said: "It requires us to abandon our understanding of the physical
|Other possible criticisms are:|
The 12 prayer groups were located at some considerable distance from the
patients. Prayer might be more effective if it is local.
The 12 prayer groups were composed of strangers to the patients. Prayer might be more
effective if it is done by family or loved ones of the patients --
people who know the patients and are concerned about their recovery. A
posting on the Good Fig web site suggested that: "God doesn't want
our vain repetitions; He wants sincere, heartfelt prayer. Some group of
people that has never even met the patient in person and doesn't really
know the person can't do that." 11
Those Christians who view Satan as a living entity might suggest
that Satan would have wanted to prevent the study from showing a
positive result. After all, if a scientific study proved
that prayer was effective, then more people might be led to believe in
God. Satan might have personally intervened by impeding the recovery of
some patients in the prayed-over group in order to cancel out the
positive effects of prayer on that group.
Some conservative Christians believe that non-Christian religions,
like Buddhism and Islam are actually forms of
Satanism; their followers worship Satan or his demons. Thus, they
might conclude that any positive effect of the Christian
prayer groups would be counteracted by negative influences from the non-Christian prayer groups.
The overall end result might be to see no observable results.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- J.M. Aviles, et al. "Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: a
randomized controlled trial." Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2001;76:1192-1198. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
- Randolph C. Byrd, "Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population," Southern Medical
Journal 81, no. 7 (1988). Pages 826 to 829.
- W.S. Harris, M. Gowda, J.W. Kolb, C.P. Strychacz, J.L. Vacek, P.G. Jones, A. Forker, J.H. O'Keefe, and B.D. McCallister, "A randomized,
controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit," Archives of
Internal Medicine 159 (1999). Pages 2273 to 2278.
- Victor Stenger, "Reality check: The science of prayer," Skeptical Briefs newsletter, 2001-DEC, at: http://www.csicop.org/
- Leon Jaroff, "Questioning Healing Prayer. A
reevaluation of a study threatens to tarnish the reputations of two
prestigious institutions," Time magazine, 2004-JUL-01, at: http://www.time.com/
- B.L. Flamm, "Faith healing by prayer: Review of Cha, KY, Wirth, DP,
Lobo, RA. Does prayer influence the success of in vitro fertilization-embryo
transfer?" Sci Review Alt Med 2002; 6(1):47-50.
- B.L. Flamm, "The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study:
Flawed and Fraud," Skeptical Inquirer, 2004-SEP.
- B.L. Flamm, "Faith healing confronts modern medicine," Sci Review
Alt Med 2004; 8(1):9-14.
- "Power of prayer found wanting by scientists," Chicago Sun-Times, 2003-OCT-15, at: http://www.suntimes.com/
- " 'No health benefit' from prayer," BBC
News, 2003-OCT-15, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
- The "Good
Fig: News for Christians" web site is at: http://www.goodfig.org/
Copyright © 1996 to 2010 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1996-JAN-14
Latest update: 2010-NOV-05
Author: B.A. Robinson
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