Writing in “The Faith That Heals”, William Osler noted:
“Nothing in life is more wonderful than faith—the one great moving force which we can neither weigh in the balance nor test in the crucible… Faith has always been an essential factor in the practice of medicine… Not a psychologist but an ordinary clinical physician concerned in making strong the weak in mind and body, the whole subject is of intense interest to me.”
Throughout history, religion and spirituality and the practice of medicine have been intertwined. Many religions embrace caring for the sick as a primary mission, and many of the world’s leading medical institutions have religious and spiritual roots.
It is however in Christianity where terms like faith or miracle healing are ubiquitous. Christian adherents interpret the Bible, particularly the New Testament, as teaching belief in and practice of faith healing. They claim that faith alone can cure blindness, deafness, cancer, AIDS, development disorders, anaemia among other diseases.
Usually, when one is afflicted by any of these diseases, they would rather wait for divine intervention to cure them instead of seeking medical help in the hospital.
Claims that prayer, divine intervention, or the ministrations of an individual healer can cure illnesses have been popular throughout history. Miraculous recovery has been attributed to many techniques commonly lumped together as faith healing. It can involve prayer, a visit to a religious shrine, or simply a strong belief in a supreme being.
The claim is substantiated by citing several biblical miracles when Jesus cured a number of people because they had faith in him to heal them like the leper, the centurion servant, the dumb and blind man and even raising Lazarus from the dead among others.
Faith healers and miracle healers are convinced that human beings have two realms of existence, which may conveniently be labelled inner and outer. The outer realm consists of a human being’s interaction with the world; the inner realm is his or her interaction with the transcendental, whether this is a divine being or ideals hinted at through such experiences as beauty, awe and love.
Here, in practice, the ideas converge. Most people hold that correct action in the outer realm consists of justice and magnanimity and that the inner realm can be dwelt in only through sincerity. These principles may arise from different contexts—for example, in the monotheistic faiths, one acts justly to know God, whereas in Buddhism one acts justly to be released from suffering—but people with various different beliefs have spiritualities that are fundamentally similar.
Granted that is the case, when people consult physicians to determine the cause and treatment of a certain illness, they may also seek answers to existential questions that medical science cannot answer, e.g. why is this illness happening to me?
Many patients rely on a religious or spiritual framework and call on religious or spiritual care providers to help answer these questions.
A majority of the nearly 350 studies of physical health and 850 studies of mental health that have used religious and spiritual variables have found that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes.
Most patients have a spiritual life and regard their spiritual health and physical health as equally important. Furthermore, people may have greater spiritual needs during illness.
A large and growing number of studies have shown a direct relationship between religious involvement and spirituality and positive health outcomes, including mortality, physical illnesses, mental illness, HRQOL, and coping with illness (including terminal illness). Studies also suggest that addressing the spiritual needs of patients may facilitate recovery from illness.
But faith healing has often drawn ridicule from secular circles, with a number of people saying that those who believe in it are just intoxicated by the “opium of the masses.” That is religion.
Although the relationship between religious involvement and spirituality and health outcomes seems valid, it is difficult to establish causality. While religiously involved persons embrace health-promoting behaviours, eschew risky behaviours, and have strong support networks, these factors do not account for all the benefits of religious involvement and spirituality. Rather, these benefits are likely conveyed through complex psychosocial-behavioural and biological processes that are incompletely understood.
In many developed countries, many Christian organisations who shun medical treatment due to the belief that disease is an illusion caused by sin had geared up civic and health groups to advocate for legal laws which protect patients from families or faith groups that treat them with prayer rather than medicine to charges of first or second-degree homicide.
Several medical unions around the world have for long accused faith healers of spiritualising diseases and encouraging people to dump medication on unfounded claims they had been miraculously healed. As the promise of miraculous healing mixes with scepticism about the dangers and the necessity for caution around deadly diseases, some Christians turn to faith-based treatment rather than medical care.
Faith-healers debunkers contend that we should recognise that some of these spiritual therapies may work in the apparent absence of a rationale grounded in modern science.
Some therapies may be unsuitable for assessment by controlled trial. Intercessory prayer has been subjected to several Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs): two well-designed large-scale trials found that prayer was associated with reduced mortality among coronary care patients.
However, for those who believe in God, the premise that an omnipotent, unfathomable deity produces predictable results may seem unsupportable; the prayers of the well-wishers of the patients in the control arms of the trials also seem to have been overlooked.
Those who do not believe in God may have to consider the possibility that prayer to a non-existent deity may be a valuable therapeutic modality; they too may find RCTs of prayer to be inappropriate.
Similarly, it is possible that a consciously spiritual outlook may be associated with good physical health, even if only because those following spiritual paths are likely to forego recreational drugs and sexual promiscuity: but any trial of the health impact of spiritual commitment would be philosophically and practically unfeasible.
And yet RCTs are far from an ideal method for testing primarily spiritual therapies. Such therapies tend to envisage a unique and variable interaction between patient and healer, or patient and deity. Standardisation of therapies is not necessarily the norm, and different healers are expected to achieve different results with different patients.
In addition, for those using such therapies, improvement in pathological terms may not be as important as a subjective improvement in health; indeed, physical health may be of secondary importance to happiness or inner peace, and the therapy may be viewed as simply a part of the patient’s spiritual journey.
Doctors may, therefore, be sympathetic when their patients consult spiritual healers, particularly where patients perceive their needs as going beyond clinical endpoints. This is especially likely to be the case with members of certain religious and cultural minorities, for whom it is the norm to approach spiritual healers under certain circumstances.
However, it is important for any doctor considering liaising with spiritual healers to gain some understanding of how to identify those who are all that they claim to be, within their sociocultural milieu. And well, learning from and recognising therapies from other medical traditions, doctors may find it beneficial to adapt existing therapies to patients’ spiritual perspectives.
For example, cognitive therapies may be more effective if they take a patient’s religious beliefs into account. Patient-centred approaches as a whole help to maintain the patient’s dignity and to ensure that the interventions offered are appropriate: positive outcomes include increased compliance with medication and greater patient satisfaction.
Respect for a patient’s spiritual needs can be expected to improve the doctor-patient relationship, with consequent benefits for diagnosis and management. Much of the healing process is due not to drugs or surgery per se but to the placebo effect, and this will be enhanced when the patient has trust in the doctor’s methods and beliefs.
Bottom line is, a doctor’s understanding and consideration of a patient’s spirituality is therefore likely to increase the placebo effect; indeed, such relationships may account for the survival of medical practice in past centuries when few remedies were more effective than placebo.
Now, having dissected the above two polarising theories about healing, we can now turn into the issue at hand.
On Sunday, Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries in Zimbabwe announced that its leader Dr Walter Magaya’s new anointing oil had healed a cancer-stricken man of his malignant tumour, which the hospital had failed to operate on.
Said the church on its official Facebook page:
“The new anointing oil performed wonders on Manganda’s head cancer
Peter Mangunda of Marondera developed head tumour which bothered him for 36 years. It later developed into a growth which was operated on but recurred. When they went back to the Doctors, they diagnosed that the growth could not be operated on, anymore. The growth developed into cancer and they tried all sorts of solutions for a year but to no avail. He finally went to our National Television [ZBC-TV] for help and when many people heard his plea, they advised him to come to the Arena of liberty for solution.
Indeed, he took heed and came on the 21st April 2019. Whilst Prophet Dr W. Magaya had planned for the launch of the New Anointing Oil at a later time, he was forced to administer it on Peter before the launch because of his condition.
Having been administered with the power-packed New anointing oil and with the strong belief that things will work, Peter started noticing positive changes on his condition and within few days the growth was gone.
No other growth ever developed thereafter, up until now, all for the glory of God. Today Peter came to present his testimony to the whole world for the mighty miracle God did in his life. He is completely healed and one can hardly tell what his condition looked like before the healing; only scars bear testimony of what was once there…”
The post, however, did not dwell well the country’s biggest referral hospital the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, especially the part that reads that the medical practitioner had given up on the patient.
In a statement issued, the hospital dismissed as false and misleading reports that the prophet healed a man suffering from a cancerous tumour and emphasised that the man had been treated there and that there was nothing spiritual about his healing.
The statement reads:
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals dismisses claims of spiritual healing of a severe scalp tumour by a local prophet
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals does not ordinarily respond to false media reports which involve issues to do with patient confidentially, a cardinal rule for clinicians.
However, as a socially responsible institution and acting in the best interest of the public, there are times the institution is compelled to clarify issues of public interest. It has come to our attention that there is a false media article on one of our patients, Mr Peter Manganda who had a severe scalp tumour on the head and was admitted at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals from 22 April 2019 to 7 May 2019, a period during which he underwent neurosurgery as well as plastic surgery by our Specialist Doctors.
Both surgical operations were very successful and doctors discharged the patient on 7 May 2019 after concluding that the patient was stable enough to go home. The pictures posted as having been taken after the anointed healing are actually in keeping with his state of discharge on 7 May 2019. We, therefore, find claims that the hospital failed to treat this patient but was healed by a prophet, to be highly misleading and likely to derail efforts of encouraging health-seeking behaviours among fellow Zimbabweans. This demoralizes clinical staff who go out of their way to give their best of knowledge and skill in serving their patients. Such deceptive articles are likely to cause unnecessary public despondence in the health delivery system and may cause unnecessary loss of life.
We wish to give credit to the hospital staff and to the neurosurgical and plastics teams for the job well-done.
We will leave you dear reader, the court of public opinion and analysis to pass on the judgement on who healed Peter, the prophet or the hospital?
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