To the Editor: It is an embarrassment to your Journal that an article such as Jantos and Kiat’s “Prayer as medicine: how much have we learned?”1 should have been allowed publication. The article neglects to apply scientific rigour to the topic of prayer research in failing to effectively review the most significant and largest studies on the efficacy of prayer.2-5 The results of the largest study of third-party prayer, which suggested such prayer was ineffective in reducing complications following heart surgery, were noticeably absent.2
The article by Jantos and Kiat1 begins by suggesting that a spiritual search for meaning and hope is integral to human existence. This may be true for some, but certainly not all — which means that it can not be “integral” to human existence.
Their abstract asserts the efficacy of prayer, without showing a causal relationship between prayer and improved outcomes anywhere in the article. Articles discussing the efficacy of prayer should include, if not an original study, a meta-analysis and interpretation of existing studies.
The article also outlines “plausible mechanisms by which prayer delivers health benefits”, one of which includes the claim that it could in fact involve “supernatural intervention”. In a scientific publication, such a suggestion deserves thorough scientific evidence. Instead, all the authors provide is an anecdotal story and a bible passage.
The article also uses the phrase “critics of prayer research”, presumably to describe people who are critical of the efficacy of prayer. A distinction is important, because critics of the efficacy of prayer are not necessarily critical of the research. In fact, critics would most likely encourage research so that they can, if evidence warrants, show how ineffective prayer is.
Furthermore, the statement “prayer may not be transparent to scientific investigation and may go beyond the reach of science” begs the question: what, if prayer is beyond the realms of science, is this article doing in a scientific journal?
- 1. Jantos M, Kiat H. Prayer as medicine: how much have we learned? Med J Aust 2007; 186 (10 Suppl): S51-S53. <MJA full text>
- 2. Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, et al. Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. Am Heart J 2006; 151: 934-942.
- 3. Aviles JM, Whelan SE, Hernke DA, et al. Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: a randomized controlled trial. Mayo Clin Proc 2001; 76: 1192-1198.
- 4. Krucoff MW, Crater SW, Gallup D, et al. Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study. Lancet 2005; 366: 211-217.
- 5. Astin JA, Stone J, Abrams DI, et al. The efficacy of distant healing for human immunodeficiency virus — results of a randomized trial. Altern Ther Health Med 2006; 12(6): 36-41.
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