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University of Iowa News Release

Dec. 24, 2003

UI Physician Publishes Article On The Healing Power Of Prayer

An article co-authored by Brian Olshansky, M.D., (left) director of cardiac electrophysiology for UI Heart Care at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, focuses on a debate over the healing properties of prayer. The article appears in the current edition of the British Medical Journal.

Olshansky, who also is a professor of internal medicine at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, and his co-author, Larry Dossey, the journal's executive editor, reviewed research that studied 3,393 septic patients. The researchers found that "retroactive" prayer, offered even four to ten years later, affected the outcomes of the patients' cases. While the rate of mortality (death) was similar between the prayer group and the non-prayer group, the length of stay in the hospital and the duration of fever were both shorter among patients in the prayer group.

Olshansky and Dossey wrote that the researcher, "Leibovici, with humour befitting his style, concluded that remote, retroactive intercessory prayer should be considered for clinical practice." However, they point out that Leibovici's study contains shortcomings.

"Other controlled clinical trials, reviews and meta-analyses of distant healing and prayer have reported positive findings," said Olshansky. "Leibovici's research does not necessarily disprove those studies, it just shows that we don't fully understand how prayer works and that it may work in ways that we don't find logical."

Olshansky and Dossey write that the next well-designed trial may provide a better understanding of how prayer might affect recovery from illness or injury.

Olshansky said, "Rather than dismissing studies of prayer because they do not make sense or confirm our existing knowledge, we should consider them seriously exactly for this reason. In the history of science, findings that do not fit in often yield the most profound breakthroughs."

The article is available online at

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