Outsourcing prayer does not improve heart surgery outcomes

The Harvard University Gazette published a summary of a study called STEP (Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer) where prayer by a third party didn’t improve outcomes after heart surgery.

Can you really outsource prayer?
The 1,802 participants were divided into three groups.

  • One group received no prayers.
  • A second group received prayers after being told they may or may not be prayed for.
  • The third group was informed that others would pray for them for 14 days starting on the night before their surgery.

The prayers came from three Christian groups: two Catholic, and one Protestant.

Interestingly, there were more complications in patients who knew all those people were praying for them. The researchers admit they have “no clear explanation.” for this result.

Let?s see, what could be the reason?

  • Maybe the patients got lazy when others where praying for them.
  • Maybe prayer doesn’t lend itself to a clinical trial.
  • Maybe you can’t outsource prayer.


  • Maybe the researchers confused “prayer” with “magic.”

God does not capriciously intervene just because the ritual is correct or the bribe is big enough.

Here’s an analogy.

A college student prayed before a major exam, “Oh God, if you help me make it through this exam I’ll go to church and I promise to study next time.” In the case of the Harvard study, the prayers asked for improved outcomes. If they got it, the researchers could publish an article and gain fame for themselves ? and God.

While the prayers may have been sincere, they weren’t really prayers. Rather, it was an attempt to get God to manipulate things on one’s behalf. That’s magic!

Maybe this is just an ill-conceived study. It reminds me of the nonbelievers who insisted that Jesus make a miracle on demand.

Fat chance.

12/12/06 19:07 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.