Before-and-After Medical Records

3 Jun
Are healing claims documented?
Published on July 26, 2012 by Candy Gunther Brown, Ph.D. in Testing Prayer 

Anyone who has scanned very many websites or newsletters of groups that pray for healing will have seen an abundance of testimonials of miraculous cures. People claim to have been healed of countless medical problems—ranging from headaches to metastasized cancers. But is there any medical documentation to support such healing claims? If so, very little has been published.

Assuming for a moment that people really do experience healing through prayer, why isn’t more documentation publicized?

*For one thing, doctors are not in the business of documenting miracles. The term “miracle” does not belong in the medical lexicon.

*The leaders of Christian ministries may be too busy praying for long lines of sick people to take the time to follow up with those who have already reported healing to find out if they remain healed, let alone to contact medical providers asking for documentation. Even if ministry staff did have the time, very few would have any idea how to go about collecting useful documentation.

*Many individuals seek prayer for healing before waiting for a medical diagnosis. If people experience relief after prayer, they may feel no need to return to their doctors just to prove it—indeed they may forget they were ever sick and simply move on with their busy routines.

*Even though blatantly anti-medical stances have become much less common among Christians in recent years, many Christians do continue to feel ambivalent about modern medicine. Christians want the benefits of medical technology, but they also worry that relying on medicine too much, or seeking medical proof that God heals, hinders faith in God.

*When outside researchers or the media come asking for medical verification, ministry leaders and people reporting healing may get their dander up—worried that the evidence will be used to disprove rather than confirm miracles claims.

There are of course limits to what before-and-after medical records can show. Medical evidence cannot prove that anyone was healed just because they received prayer, let alone because “God answered prayer.” Medical records cannot even show that a condition has been permanently cured; relapses are common, particularly with conditions such as cancers. By the same token, the absence or incompleteness of medical evidence does not constitute evidence of the absence of healing. Medical files inevitably exclude more information than they include. Doctors typically jot down sketchy information in haste, without recording all the details that might later seem relevant to those looking for evidence of miraculous causation. And any documentation requires interpretation. Even such apparently objective records as x-rays, laboratory reports, and doctors’ notes are not self-interpreting—thus the phrase medical opinion, and calls for second opinions.

Yet without medical documentation it is very difficult to reach any conclusion about the reliability of healing testimonials. It is impossible to provide a medical evaluation of whether people reporting healing were ever diagnosed with a medical problem, whether treatments or the course of time were expected to resolve it, or whether medical professionals observed any improvement. Until more value is placed on medical documentation of healing claims, it will be relatively easy for the unscrupulous or the naïve to claim healing when it is obvious from the medical record that no objective improvement took place. Without some way of sifting out which claims are more or less credible, just a few instances of fraud or misperception are enough to convince the skeptically minded that most or all healing testimonies are equally spurious.

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