The Third-Most Odds-Defying, Eye-Popping Discovery In The Life And Work Of Elisabeth Targ, MD
In July 1995, back when AIDS was still a death sentence, psychiatrist Elisabeth Targ and her co-researchers enrolled 20 patients with advanced AIDS in a randomized, double-blind pilot study at the UC San Francisco Medical Center. All patients received standard care, but psychic healers prayed for the 10 in the treatment group. The healers lived an average of 1,500 miles away from the patients. None of the patients knew which group they had been randomly assigned to, and thus whether they were being prayed for. During the six-month study, four of the patients died - a typical mortality rate. When the data was unblinded, the researchers learned that the four who had died were in the control group.
All 10 who were prayed for were still alive.
THE FOLLOW-UP STUDY
A lot of studies had investigated the effect of prayer on healing, but they were methodologically sloppy and their findings couldn't be replicated. In July 1996, Targ began a confirmation study, one with a larger sample and a more exacting protocol. It is widely acknowledged as the most scientifically rigorous attempt ever to discover if prayer can heal.
By this time, triple-drug therapy for those with AIDS had begun, and quite miraculously AIDS patients stopped dying. So rather than just measuring mortality, the replication trial also tallied the occurrence of 23 AIDS-related illnesses that appeared during the six months of the study, from ulcers to encephalitis.
Forty patients were recruited. They filled out questionnaires, had photos taken, and signed consent forms that indicated they had a 50/50 chance of being prayed for by faraway psychic healers. They were free to pray for themselves and have family and friends pray for them as well - the trial design assumed everyone would get a "baseline" amount of prayer from loved ones. Their blood was drawn, and a computer matched them to a statistical twin - a counterpart with a similar CD4+ level, age, and number of previous AIDS-related complications. The computer randomly assigned one of each pair to a control group and the other to a treatment group.
The photos of those in the treatment group were sent to 40 healing practitioners, ranging from rabbis to Native American medicine men to bioenergetic psychics. These healers performed their rituals one hour a day for six consecutive days. Each week for 10 weeks they rotated, so each test-group patient received distant healing from 10 practitioners. The healers kept logs and were not paid. They never met the subjects in person.
The photos of the control group were kept in a locked drawer.
Six months later, the data was unblinded.
The Second-Most Odds-Defying, Eye-Popping Discovery in the Life and Work of Elisabeth Targ
The research results showed that the subjects who were not prayed for spent 600 percent more days in the hospital. They contracted 300 percent as many AIDS-related illnesses. That's a pretty sensationalistic way of saying those who were prayed for were a lot less sick. Here's the somewhat less-sensational way of framing the results: The control group spent a total of 68 days in the hospital receiving treatment for 35 AIDS-related illnesses. The treatment group spent only 10 days in the hospital for a mere 13 illnesses.
This begs all sorts of questions, which we will get to, but for the moment, consider the following: