Sunday, May 2, 2010

The (lack of) power of prayer

Today's light reading:  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
From the American Heart Journal (Vol. 151, No. 4, April 2006):
Patients at 6 US hospitals were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: 604 received intercessory prayer after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; 597 did not receive intercessory prayer also after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; and 601 received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive prayer.
Was there any doubt what the result would be?
In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.
 So the patients who were certain of receiving prayer actually had a higher rate of complication (59% vs 52%), although the difference is probably a statistical blip given chance and the number of data points.  The numbers were pretty much all the same and a large enough data set would probably see all the numbers converge to one common value.
The humanist position:  to help people, do things that matter here and now;  don't say a bunch of words into the empty air and then kid yourself into thinking you've done anything constructive.

No comments:

Post a Comment