"We are praying for you ... you will be in my prayers." In this ostentatiously religious country, such phrases drop routinely from the lips of presidents, politicians and ordinary people when wishing someone well before an operation. But do prayers make any difference? If a major scientific study here is to be believed, the answer is, no. Indeed, if a patient knows there is organised prayer on his or her behalf, such intercession might actually make matters worse.
These are the main, if highly tentative, findings of one of the most ambitious exercises yet to evaluate the power of therapeutic prayer. The $2.5m (pounds 1.4m) study was done over a decade at six major US medical centres and involved 1,800 patients who had heart bypass surgery.
The patients - 65 per cent of whom said they believed in the power of prayer - were split into three groups. Two were prayed for, the third was not. Of those who were prayed for, one group was told so, and the others were told merely that they may or may not be prayed for. Three congregations were recruited to do the praying, one Protestant and two from Catholic monasteries, and given the names of patients. Prayers began the night before surgery, and continued for two weeks after, using the same intercession, for "a successful surgery and a quick healthy recovery with no complications". After 30 days, researchers went through the results, or lack of them. There was no significant difference between the groups, they found. …