Doctors explore use of prayer to fight disease
July 13, 1996
Web posted at: 1:35 a.m. EDT
From Correspondent Jeff Levine
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At one time, doctors were thought to have
spiritual powers. Today, most physicians depend solely on
science to heal patients. But some are combining the two.
Those who use medicine and prayer in their treatments think
they can use scientific methods to convince the skeptics.
At California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco,
doctors hope to harness spiritual powers to aid healing.
Among those in the program are breast cancer patients who
have undergone medical treatment and have now turned to faith
to continue their medical progress.
"I have people praying for me all over the country, and just
about every religion possible, but I think it's necessary so
you don't think that you're walking this path by yourself,"
patient Jody Mahoney said.
Doctors such as cancer specialist Elizabeth Targ, who
practices at the center, want to tap the power of faith in
the war against disease. She already has studied the
effects of prayer on a small number of AIDS patients. The
prayed-for group repeatedly lived longer, she said.
"Based on the pilot study, there were some encouraging
results, so we're doing a much larger study, whether there
might really be an effect of these kind of interventions,"
She is not alone in her search. About 70 research specialists
convened near Washington this week to discuss ways of
integrating religion and health care.
Dr. Dale Matthews of Georgetown University Medical Center
plans to research the issue in a study of 60 rheumatoid
"Physicians are trying to legitimize for themselves, getting
re-involved in the area of religion, spirituality and health
care," said Dr. Larry Dossey, author of the books "Healing
Words" and "Prayer is Good Medicine."
No definitive answer
Dossey said his experiences have convinced him of prayer's
power to intervene in cases where conventional medicine
failed. "If you asked me, if you were sick, if I would pray
for you, I would tell you I would."
He maintains the effect is not merely psychological. Even
rodents heal faster when prayer is used, he said.
"The real interesting question, which is obviously a much
more difficult scientific question, is there a transcendent
power at work? Does God answer prayer?" Matthews asked.
Matthews thinks the answer is 'yes.' But many doctors,
including his colleague, Dr. Brian Doyle, say people need to
be realistic when considering the power of prayer.
"It is particularly difficult to quantify. We may not ever
have the 'evidence' that shows these things help," he said.
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