Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory
Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population

RANDOLPH C. BYRD, MD, San Francisco, Calif

ABSTRACT: The therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer (IP) to the Judeo-Christian
God, one of the oldest forms of therapy, has had little attention in the medical literature.
To evaluate the effects of IP in a coronary care unit (CCU) population, a prospective
randomized double-blind protocol was followed. Over ten months, 393 patients admitted
to the CCU were randomized, after signing informed consent, to an intercessory prayer
group (192 patients) or to a control group (201 patients). While hospitalized, the first
group received IP by participating Christians praying outside the hospital; the control
group did not. At entry, chi-square and stepwise logistic analysis revealed no statistical
difference between the groups. After entry, all patients had follow-up for the remainder of
the admission. The IP group subsequently had a significantly lower severity score based
on the hospital course after entry (P < .01). Multivariate analysis separated the groups
on the basis of the outcome variables (P < .0001). The control patients required
ventilatory assistance, antibiotics, and diuretics more frequently than patients in the IP
group. These data suggest that intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God has a
beneficial therapeutic effect in patients admitted to a CCU.

WHO HAS NOT, during a time of illness or pain, cried out to a higher being for help and healing? Praying for help and healing is a fundamental con- cept in practically all societies, though the object to which these prayers are directed varies among the religions of the world.1 In western culture, the idea of praying for the benefit of others (inter- cessory prayer) to the Judeo- Christian God is widely accepted and practiced. However, the medical literature contains no scientific evidence either confirming or negating the healing effec- tiveness of intercessory prayer. In only a few studies have scientific methods been used to attempt to determine whether or not prayer is therapeutically effective,2-5 and these studies have been inconclusive.6
   My study concerning prayer and patients in a general hospital coronary care unit was designed to answer two questions: (1) Does intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God have any effect on the patient's medical condition and recovery while in the hospital? (2) How are these effects characterized, if present?

From the Cardiology Division, Medical Service, San Francisco General Medical Center, and the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. Reprint requests to Randolph C. Byrd, MD, PO Box 179, Big Bear City, CA 92314.

   Between August 1982 and May 1983, 393 patients were entered into a prospective double blind randomized protocol to assess the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer.
   All patients admitted to the coronary care unit at San Francisco General Hospital were eligible for entry into the study; 57 patients refused for personal reasons, religious convictions, and/or unwillingness to sign the informed consent.
   Before entry, the nature of the project was fully explained to each patient and informed consent was obtained. Patients were randomly assigned (using a computer-generated list) either to receive or not to receive intercessory prayer. The patients, the staff and doctors in the unit, and I remained "blinded',' throughout the study. As a precaution against biasing the study, the patients were not contacted again. It was assumed that some of the patients in both groups would be prayed for by people not associated with the study; this was not controlled for. Thus some of the patients in the control group would be prayed for, whereas all of the patients in the prayer group would be (i.e.,
by both nonassociated people and by the designated intercessors of the study).
   For the purposes of this study, intercessors were chosen on the following basis. They were "born again" Christians (according to the Gospel of John 3:3) with an active Christian life as manifested by

826 July 1988 • SOUTHERN MEDICAL JOURNAL • Vol. 81, No. 7

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