It isn’t too often that science, religion, and politics meet, but The National Institutes of Health has funded research into the effectiveness of prayer on the healing of the sick, including patients with cancer and AIDS.

Today, there are many healing centers set up in churches all over the country where people may go for advice about praying for an ill loved one. To the members of any religion or belief, the power of prayer, the laying on of hands, and the recordings of miracles is nothing new.

Reaction of Today’s Society

In today’s society, a medical scientist would have grave doubts about the recordings of miracles ascribed to Christ in the Bible. The scientist would have to follow a medical protocol in order to establish the process and validity of the disease, its symptoms, possible treatment, and outcome. But these facts are not available for miracles; the scientist would have to put down the whole affair as being apocryphal.

The closest a scientist might come to account for someone whose disease went away without medical treatment would be spontaneous remission — as in some cancer cases — which is often brought into play when there doesn’t appear to be a logical answer for why a patient suddenly appears to be cured.

Reliance on the ability to heal through an unknown power as opposed to the medical establishment is exhibited by some members of established religious faiths. For instance, Christian Scientists say that healing comes through scientific prayer or spiritual communion with God. They maintain that prayer recognizes a patient’s direct access to God’s love and discovers more of the consistent operation of God’s law of health and wholeness on her behalf.

The British medical journal The Lancet took a poll. The results indicated that 73 percent of people believe praying for someone else can help cure their illness; 75 percent of patients wanted their physicians to address spiritual issues; 50 percent of hospitalized patients wanted their physicians to pray with them; and 28 percent believed in the ability of faith healers to make people well through their faith and touch.

Spiritual healers believe it is possible to channel a healing energy to a patient by praying to God. Eastern religions believe that the spirit, mind, and body have to be in harmony or balance to sustain good physical and mental health. Disease is said to begin in the spirit and mind; therefore, the healing must begin there.

Experiments and Research

Reliable research into such topics as ethical distant healing is difficult because many factors need to be controlled. Scientific research often uses the double-blind method to control variables. For example, when a pill is given to selected patients in a study group, none of them knows who is getting the real thing and who is getting the sugar pill. At the same time, none of the researchers knows whether they are giving the real thing or a sugar pill to the subjects. (They are both blind to the identification of which is which and to whom it’s delivered.)

In 1988 a cardiologist named Randolph Byrd carried out a well-designed, double-blind experiment in an effort to determine if prayers had any effect on patients in the Coronary Care Unit in San Francisco General Hospital. A computer randomly selected which of the 383 newly admitted patients would be prayed for and who would not. The experiment was carried out over a ten-month period. The results were remarkable; those prayed for were five times less likely to require antibiotics, three times less likely to develop complications, and none had the need for an endotracheal intubation (a tube inserted into the patient’s throat). Twelve of the patients who weren’t prayed for did need the procedure.

The reaction to the experiment from the medical establishment was mixed because it was claimed the experiment was not completely scientific. However, after revising the experimental procedures, Dr. Byrd’s findings were replicated; seemingly, prayers work.

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