Study: Prayer comforts, but lends little to healing
Web posted at: 7:29 a.m. EST (1229 GMT)
From Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Sherry Moore is waiting for a heart transplant. And while she waits each day for the call that will tell her a donor heart has been found, she prays.
"I don't focus on my problems. I focus on the peace that is within me, talking with Him, through prayer," Moore said.
Prayer is common among people seeking to ease intense pain. But now some experts are asking how much it helps.
The answer, according to Columbia University in New York: not much.
Researchers from Columbia say prayer does little to help the physical healing process.
"I don't think there's any doubt that people derive enormous comfort from religion, and they should continue to do that," said Richard Sloan, one of the Columbia researchers. "What they shouldn't expect is that religious activity is going to promote their health."
The problem, researchers say, is that most of the studies connecting prayer and healing are scientifically invalid.
"Many studies, especially some of the older ones, have significant methodological flaws, which render the conclusions questionable," Sloan said.
Though the general belief is that prayer can't hurt, Sloan's study discourages doctors from encouraging prayer as a treatment.
"If physicians suggest, either directly or even implicitly, that faith and religious activity are associated with health," Sloan said, "then they indirectly suggest the opposite -- which is that the disease and illness are associated with insufficient faith and insufficient devotion."
But chaplains who administer to the sick say prayer is more than just words.
"Religion opens up possibilities to people and that's where healing happens," Rabbi Mychal Springer said. "When people believe that, something is possible."
Researchers insist they're not attacking prayer: They just want people to know that scientifically, there's no real proof that prayer heals. But religious leaders say its not about science or even the healing of the body, but faith, hope and a healing of the spirit.
"Religious resources help so many people. And yes, any resource can be abused," Springer said. "But does that mean it's unethical to endeavor to have a rich spiritual life in the face of serious illness? I don't think so.
Moore, meanwhile, says she would be lost without prayer.
"It brings me -- oh, boy -- endurance, patience, encouragement and oh so much joy and kindness," she said.
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