Prayer and Medical Outcomes

One frustration in seeing reports on medical literature in the mainstream media is that the reporters generally oversimplify medical articles leaving readers with a misleading account. Yesterday there were news stories such as this AP report on this article in Archives of Surgery. The articles headline states that “1 in 2 believe prayer saves the dying.”  This headline can be supported from the article with the abstract stating, “More of the public (57.4%) than the professionals (19.5%) believe that divine intervention could save a person when physicians believe treatment is futile.” It also goes on to say that, “Other findings suggest further important insights.”

The article is more significant when evaluated beyond the provocative line quoted which formed the basis of many newspaper headlines. Orac does a good job of summarizing the full study at Respectful Insolence.

The pubic does come out looking better in reading the full article than in only looking at this one aspect. As the question of prayer changing hopeless medical outcomes has been the section discussed the most, it is worth pointing out that a closely related topic of prayer influencing other medical outcomes has actually been studied scientifically, as I have previously discussed here and here. It turned out that 1) prayer did not affect medical outcomes and 2) there appears to have been fraud practiced in some papers which did suggest that a benefit could be seen from prayer.

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