German doctor: evaluations of Lourdes healings

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Medical committee reviews medical explanations for miracle cures in Lourdes

Every year, 30 to 40 people report that they are said to have been spontaneously cured of an illness after visiting the Mariengrotte in Lourdes. An international medical committee reviews the supposed miracle cures, most of which, however, can be explained scientifically. The healing is only inexplicable for very few, reports the German doctor and member of the committee in Lourdes, Rolf Theiß.

Only two to three healings a year in Lourdes are of interest to doctors. Every year around six million people make a pilgrimage to the place of pilgrimage Lourdes. Many of them are sick and ask for healing in the Mariengrotte. Because there are always miracle healings that could be related to 18 apparitions of Mary from 1858. The German doctor Rolf Theiß is the only German member of the international medical committee that examines the spontaneous healing of Lourdes from a scientific point of view. Around 30 to 40 cases of this kind are reported every year. “But the fewest cases are really inexplicable. And even less are considered miracles later, ”the 66-year-old surgeon from Saarburg told the news agency“ dpa ”. Theiss reveals that only two to three cases a year are of interest to the committee. Last year, pilgrims reported alleged miracle cures, including hepatitis C, epilepsy, kidney cancer, and paralysis. "Many cases are eliminated from the outset," explains the doctor. For example, obviously pretended healings and psychosomatic illnesses were among them.

When the scientific investigation of the healings in Lourdes, the international committee first analyzed the patient's medical history, reports Theiss. It had to be clarified what exactly the disease was. Most of the sick who came to Lourdes had already received prior treatment. "We have to check closely whether the cure could not be a result of the treatment." In addition, it must be examined whether an illness is really cured and permanently disappears. Sometimes the test would take years to complete until a cure was really classified as not scientifically explainable.

Healings in Lourdes could also take place in other places. "We doctors don't speak of miracles," says Theiss. Spontaneous healing could also occur in other places. “There are things everywhere that cannot be explained.” For him, the special thing about Lourdes is that many sick people meet in this spiritual place.

An inexplicable cure is by no means a miracle, according to the doctor. Only the Catholic Church can classify it as a miracle. Of the approximately 7,000 healings in Lourdes that have been recorded since the apparitions of Mary in 1858, according to the sanctuary, only 68 were recognized as miracles. The fall of the Italian nun Luigina was the last healing described by the Catholic Church as a miracle. The woman suffered from paralysis of the legs and was healed in Lourdes. As Theiss reports, this case was very interesting. "It kept us busy for years." The nun was paralyzed and carried to church in 1965, but was then suddenly able to move her foot again. From a medical point of view, there is no explanation for the cure "according to the current state of science", said Theiss. The now 79-year-old "is still healthy today".

Theiss took over the seat on the committee from his father. The doctor would recommend a pilgrimage to Lourdes "not as therapy", but would support a patient, "but if I notice that he would like to go there".

Healings without a conventional medical explanation Cases of healings are also repeatedly described in medicine for which there is no clear conventional medical explanation. For example, some types of cancer - even if only rarely - can lead to a so-called spontaneous remission, in which an unexpected improvement or even complete recovery occurs. Programmed cell death or neovascularization in tumors are discussed as the cause.

In fact, the human body is constantly engaged in repair and regeneration processes. For example, around a billion cells in the skin are renewed every day. The inner layer of the small intestine also renews itself approximately every three days. Even defects in the genetic material of DNA are repaired daily by enzymes. In the event of injuries such as broken bones or cuts in the skin, the body mobilizes additional self-healing powers that repair the damage. The body can heal many diseases on its own - without medication or special therapies.

In May 2010, US doctors Deborah Grady and Rita Redberg published the study "Less is More", in which they argued for less medical care. Again and again, undesirable side effects of therapeutic measures would outweigh the benefits, so that less medical intervention sometimes leads to a better recovery. The doctors published their results in the "Archives of Internal Medice" magazine of the "Journal of the American Medical Association" (JAMA). (ag)

Image: Bernd Kasper /

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