In vitro fertilization prayer study (June 29, 2004).
High on my priority list is a page talking about the recent prayer studies. These are
interesting studies because they highlight important issues about causation. I've already
discussed a retrospective prayer study that highlights the
importance of temporality. Issue #22 of the eSkeptic newsletter discusses
apparent fraud in a different prayer
An additional report on fraud in
the prayer study appears in the news
and comment section of The Scientist, an open
source publication of BioMedCentral. Thanks to a
reader of this weblog for sending in this link.
The study in question,
- Does prayer influence the success of in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer? Report of a
masked, randomized trial. Cha KY, Wirth DP, Lobo RA. J Reprod Med. 2001 Sep;46(9):781-7.
showed that the prayer group had a doubling in the pregnancy rate (50% vs 26%) and in the
implantation rate (16% vs 8%) compared to controls. Like many prayer studies, the researchers
did not seek informed consent from the patients.
I've always been perplexed by this omission. The reasoning is that you avoid selection
bias, but you would still have randomization after getting consent. So the internal validity
of the study would be just fine. Perhaps this might affect external validity, but I view this
as a minor problem. We should bend over backwards to respect patient autonomy, even if it
means sacrificing some level of scientific validity. There are times when the loss of
scientific validity is so severe that it would justify bypassing the consent process. But not
with these prayer studies.
I can't find much coverage of the fraud issue, which is a complaint mentioned in the
eSkeptic newsletter. It seems that these studies make a big splash when they are first
published but no one remembers or cares about the later retraction. If anything, most web
pages cite this study in support of the hypothesis that prayer can heal.
I've only started to accumulate a bibliography on this topic, but here are a few
references and web sites.
- Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with
bloodstream infection: randomised controlled trial. Leibovici L. British Medical Journal
2001: 323(7327); 1450-1.
- The efficacy of "distant healing": a systematic review of randomized trials. Astin
JA, Harkness E, Ernst E. Annals of Internal Medicine 2000: 132(11); 903-10.
- Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit
population: a randomized controlled trial. Aviles JM, Whelan SE, Hernke DA, Williams BA,
Kenny KE, O'Fallon WM, Kopecky SL. Mayo Clin Proc. 2001 Dec;76(12):1192-8.
- Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health (Cochrane Review). Roberts L,
Ahmed I, Hall S. In: The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2004. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons,
- Prayer, science, and the moral life of medicine. Bishop JP. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Jun
- A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes
in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit. Harris WS, Gowda M, Kolb JW, Strychacz
CP, Vacek JL, Jones PG, Forker A, O’Keefe JH, McCallister BD. Archives of Internal Medicine
1999: 159(19); 2273-2278.
- Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer. Galton SF. Fortnightly Review
1872: 12; 125-135.
Systematic review of clinical trials examining the effects of religion on health. Townsend
M, Kladder V, Ayele H, Mulligan T. South Med J. 2002 Dec;95(12):1429-34.
- Can Science
Prove that Prayer Works? Avalos H, Council for Secular Humanism. Accessed on
- Case Teaching Notes
for Prayer Study: Science or Not?. Gallucci K, Elon University. Accessed on
- Human Research Subject
Protections Under Multiple Project Assurance (MPA) M-1356 Research Project: Does Prayer
Influence the Success of In Vitro Fertilization-Embryo Transfer? [pdf] Carome
MA, Office for Human Research Protections. Accessed on 2004-06-01. ohrp.osophs.dhhs.gov/detrm_letrs/dec01f.pdf
- Is Prayer Clinically
Effective?. Myers DG. Accessed on 2003-09-09. www.davidmyers.org/religion/prayer.html
- On Assessing Prayer,
Faith, and Health. Myers DG. Accessed on 2003-09-09. www.davidmyers.org/religion/faith.html
- A Prayer Before
Dying. Bronson P. Accessed on 2003-09-09. www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.12/prayer.html?pg=1
- Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population.
Rudolph C. Byrd. Southern Medical Journal (volume 81, pages 826-829, 1988.
[Medline] Reprinted at
Update: January 21, 2005: A letter to the editor pointing out some of the
criticisms of the In vitro fertilization prayer study was published in the Journal of
- Prayer and the Success of IVF. BL Flamm. Journal of Reproductive Medicine 2005
(January). 50(1); 71.
and appears on the web at
This is a rather generic web address, so I suspect it will change when the next issue of
this journal appears.
This page was written by
Steve Simon while working at Children's Mercy Hospital. Although I do not hold the copyright for this material, I am reproducing it here as a service, as it is no longer available on the Children's Mercy Hospital website. Need more
information? I have a page with general help
resources. You can also browse for pages similar to this one at Category: Corroborating evidence.