By Dr. Dayal Mirchandani
When someone is about to lose a loved one, never deny them their faith.
-Elisabeth Targ, M.D.
For thousands of years prayer and a few herbs were all that medicine really had to offer. Today many therapists believe that the healing schools of reiki, energy and pranic healing are really ritualised prayers to a higher power for help. This question has not been answered to the satisfaction of most scientists even till today.
Perhaps the first person to try to determine the usefulness of prayer was the British anthropologist Sir Francis Galton. In the 1870s he tried to statistically determine if priests lived longer than materialistic people (e.g., doctors and lawyers), and whether persons frequently prayed for, like monarchs, tended to live longer than others. His results led him to conclude that prayer did not influence longevity.
In the 1960s and 70s Dr Herbert Benson and Ainslie Meares, MD, an Australian psychiatrist, demonstrated the remarkable positive effects of meditation on health. This re-stimulated interest in the effect of prayer on healing. A number of studies showed that it had some positive effect, but findings could not be reproduced.
In 1988 the most positive study of prayer efficacy was published in the Southern Medical Journal by cardiologist Randolph Byrd, M.D. He studied a sample of coronary care unit patients.
Over a period of 10 months, patients were randomly divided into two matched groups-192 patients, who received prayers by prayer groups outside the hospital and 201 control patients who did not. Neither patients nor their doctors were aware which patients were receiving the prayer. This study showed that the prayer group showed a significantly superior recovery as compared to the control group. None of them required artificial ventilators while 12 patients in the control group required this. In addition, patients in the prayer group significantly required fewer antibiotics and were less likely to develop complications.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Targ did the most interesting studies on the effectiveness of prayer in 1995. Twenty advanced AIDS patients were studied, all of them receiving standard medical care. In addition, 10 of them received prayers from psychic healers. None of the patients were aware whether or not they were being prayed for.
During the six-month study, four of the patients died. The researchers learned that the four who had died were from the ones who had not received prayer.
Following this, in 1996, Dr Targ began another study of 40 patients randomly assigned to a prayer group and a control group which did not receive prayer. The photographs of the prayer group were sent to volunteer healers including rabbis, psychics and Native American healers. Each patient received one hour of healing a day from a healer and each week the healers were changed, so that over 10 weeks of study the patients received healing from 10 different practitioners.
On an average the treatment group (prayer) spent only 10 days in hospital and suffered from 13 AIDS-related illnesses, while the patients who did not receive prayer on an average spent 68 days in hospital, receiving treatment for 35 AIDS-related illnesses.
This showed that prayer had a significant effect on the patient’s illness. Her study met the exacting standards of the Western Medical Journal and was published in 1998.
Dr Targ had an impeccable medical background-a graduate of the Stanford Medical School and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco. Also, she was chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer’s niece and the godchild of the famous Buddhist teacher, Joan Halifax.
This, combined with her interest in parapsychology and her impressive findings made her a darling of the New Age movement. She was invited to conferences and radio and television shows. In 2000 Dr Targ received a 1.5 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Health to study the effect of prayer on AIDS and another to study its effect on Brain Tumours.
In early 2002, at age 40, Dr Targ noticed that she was facing difficulties in pronouncing certain words and that the left side of her face was suddenly going slack. She wondered if this was the side effect of the IVF treatment she was undergoing to have a baby. To be safe she had an MRI scan which showed a star shaped tumour.
Further tests showed an advanced Glioblastoma Multiform (GBM), one of the most malignant of cancers. With or without treatment patients with this cancer have a short lifespan usually measured in months. Her neuro-surgeon tried unsuccessfully to remove the tumour.
The news about her illness spread like wildfire over the internet among the new age community and hundreds of people started praying for her. Energy healers, psychics, and acupuncturists-they were all trying to help her. She knew medicine had nothing to offer and she believed in healing and was willing to try anything.
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