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The healing of body and soul

December 07, 2006

Re "Prayer and Prozac make for bad medicine," Opinion, Dec. 2

Richard P. Sloan asserts that there is no room for spirituality in medicine. He supports this with a number of premises, all specious. Sloan argues that doctors delving into the spiritual lives of patients means they do so at the expense of essential medical consultation and that the science on the benefits of prayer and spirituality shows it to be worthless. What he does not say is that able, modern physicians are perfectly capable of managing their time with their patients and recognizing that no two patients are alike.

Sloan chooses not to acknowledge the millions of patients who are quite certain that prayer has aided and hastened their recovery. Instead, Sloan points to science to bootstrap his argument -- poor science in this case that fails to measure the benefits of prayer with any reliability or construct validity. No, prayer or assessing the spiritual life of patients is not for everybody, but it should be considered perfectly acceptable, appropriate and efficacious for the millions who feel it is an essential part of their wellness.

MICHAEL LAZAROU

Westlake Village

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My personal experience supports and confirms what I have since learned as a social scientist with a doctorate in the history of religions: Healing has always and everywhere in human history been practiced by religious experts. Life, death, illness and mystery are the province of both religion and science. In fact, one can demonstrate that the physician, a medical scientist, is also a religious expert. In our seriously misguided technological society, we divide knowing about ultimate things from religious practice, calling it "science," which is merely the generic word for "knowledge." But in our actual experience, religion and technology are intermixed.

Sloan's attempt to separate medical practice from spiritual life is not only lamentable, it is impractical. People seek consolation when they or their loved ones are ill, and they hope for miracles. I am not arguing that prayer heals all ills or that science is incomplete without rituals. I am arguing that the mystery of being human includes the necessity of religion in one form or another. I don't argue this because I am a Christian but because I am an agnostic and a scientist with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge in any form that it takes.

JEAN E. ROSENFELD

Pacific Palisades

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The very last thing anyone needs in medicine is some goofy cult religion getting in the way of sound medical practices. Any medical practitioner who starts asking me about my religious views will find himself staring at an empty chair and a swinging door. The two do not belong together.

JOE DOREMIRE

Fountain Hills, Ariz.

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