January 18th, 2019

Prayer and the Success of IVF
Authors:  Bruce L. Flamm, M.D.
  To the Editors:
Dr. Kwang Cha's letter in the November issue clarifying concerns about his article "Does Prayer Influence the Success of in Vitro Fertilization-Embryo Transfer? Report of a Masked, Randomized Trial" (2001;46:781-797) contains errors and is misleading. To set the record straight, I would like to inform your readers of the following facts.
1) Dr. Cha stated that the article was authored by Cha and Wirth. The study originally had three authors. Dr. Rogerio Lobo recently indicated that he was involved only with editorial assistance.
2) Dr. Cha stressed that signing of written informed consent forms was not required by his local internal review board in Korea. However, that issue is unrelated to written consent forms but rather the fact that the study participants were not informed that they were being used as human subjects. This lack of informed consent resulted in an investigation of Columbia University by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Information on this investigation is public and can be viewed at Given a choice, Korean patients of various religious persuasions may have declined to take part in the study.
3) The statement that allowing informed consent would have introduced bias into the study is not valid. The study was double blinded, and the prayer groups were located in other nations. Thus, study subjects would have had no way of knowing if they were being prayed for or not. Infertility patients often pray for their own fertility, and there is no reason to think that informed consent would have changed their habits, especially since they would not have known if they were the subjects of intercessory prayer.
4) Dr. Cha stated, "It is regrettable that co-author Daniel P. Wirth has been accused of fraud." Cha also referred to "this alleged crime." Mr. Wirth was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2002. Six months ago Mr. Wirth pled guilty to all crimes contained in his federal indictment, thus admitting to a 20-year history of criminal, fraudulent activities. This indictment is a matter of public record, and a summary can be viewed at http://www.quack-watch.org/11Ind/wirthindictment.html
5) Dr. Cha claimed that Mr. Wirth's crimes were "entirely unrelated to this study." However, Mr. Wirth has been found guilty of a continuous pattern of fraudulent behavior.
6) Dr. Cha defended the study's design by stating that Mr. Wirth thought it was the best design to use. This is an argument from authority. However, in this case the authority is a convicted felon.
7) Dr. Cha repeatedly stated that it would have been "impossible" for Mr. Wirth to have influenced the outcome of this study. Dr. Cha also stated, "There is no reason to think that Mr. Wirth would have been motivated not to organize prayer groups when such groups are his area of interest." The federal indictment demonstrates that Mr. Wirth was involved in several criminal schemes when the Cha/Wirth/Lobo study was allegedly conducted.
8) Dr. Cha stated, "The study was designed to answer the question (yes/no) as to whether intercessory prayer would have an effect on IVF-ET outcomes." We should remember that no alleged paranormal or supernatural phenomenon of any type has ever been replicated under controlled scientific conditions.
Keywords:  fertilization in vitro, embryo transfer, prayer, complementary medicine, alternative medicine
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