A Test of Faith

A controversial San Francisco study is spending taxpayers' money to see if Christian clergy, Indian medicine men, and Tibetan lamas can heal patients with AIDS and brain tumors

"There is a whole other area of research on religion and health which is based on the current scientific model, which looks at spirituality in terms of well-being and social support and health behaviors," says Duke University's Koenig. "In trying to better integrate medicine and religion, you would stand a better chance doing research based on this model. This kind of research is what is pushing interest in medicine on this topic; it's really not the intercessory prayer or distant healing studies that are changing the field, it's these other studies."

But Dr. Jacobs, the first director of the Office of Alternative Medicine, says there are still benefits to researching subjects like distant healing. "I think the research [on distant healing] is good, even if there are equivocal results, because at least more people are paying attention to the value of spirituality. As Western medical types, we're all so uptight about dealing with spiritual issues. That they're doing this research project focusing on spiritual dimensions -- the benefit is that the medical society will become much more enlightened.

Dr. Elisabeth Targ believes science can study anything.
Paolo Vescia
Dr. Elisabeth Targ believes science can study anything.
Dr. Elisabeth Targ believes science can study anything.
Paolo Vescia
Dr. Elisabeth Targ believes science can study anything.
Dr. Elisabeth Targ believes science can study anything.
Paolo Vescia
Dr. Elisabeth Targ believes science can study anything.
Dr. Wallace Sampson, a vocal critic of alternative medicine, believes distant healing studies wrongfully blur belief and science.
Paolo Vescia
Dr. Wallace Sampson, a vocal critic of alternative medicine, believes distant healing studies wrongfully blur belief and science.
Jerome Stone, project manager for the AIDS study.
Paolo Vescia
Jerome Stone, project manager for the AIDS study.
Native American healer Phillip Scott.
Paolo Vescia
Native American healer Phillip Scott.

"Beyond that, [the study of distant healing] is an intellectual exercise, something that could get you published in a medical journal. Because what would the further impacts of this research be for the public? When it comes down to faith, it's a conundrum. We may never be able to figure out the mechanism."

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