Faith's Role in Medicine Debated

July 26, 2000

Source: Star Tribune

On July 26, 2000, the Star Tribune published an article entitled "Finding a Role for Faith in Medicine; Both Doctors and Counselors Observe That a Patient's Religious Beliefs May be Helpful, But They Caution Against Making Faith a Formal Part of Treatment." In a recent study, "Seventy-five devout Christians were asked to take part in an unusual experiment: Researchers had them pray for 466 strangers, each of whom had been hospitalized with serious heart problems." When those who were prayed for were compared to a control group that received no special prayers, evidence pointed to a higher recovery rate for those who received spiritual support. However, the report on this 1997 experiment, which was "published last October in the Archives of Internal Medicine, has since triggered an avalanche of criticism, attacking both the study's design and conclusions...But to Richard Sloan of Columbia University, it's just one more sign of how gullible both the media and medical community have become about matters of science and religion...In an article in last month's New England Journal of Medicine, he and eight colleagues - including a group of hospital chaplains - argued that there are fatal flaws in many of the studies that have linked religious activity and better health."

"Physicians and patients alike are on dangerous ground if they believe that advice about religious matters has the same medical support as a recommendation for antibiotic treatment," they wrote in a June 22 article titled "Should Physicians Prescribe Religious Activities?"