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A matter of faith or just a placebo? As strong views grow on social media, more weigh in to conversation

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 19/12/2015

Josh Martin
Josh Martin

A huge debate was sparked across Northern Ireland after model Rachelle Liggett spoke of her belief that prayer helped to cure her cancer.

Strong views were expressed throughout social media after the 25-year-old model and teacher from Portadown claimed that it was through the "power of prayer" that her leukaemia disappeared.

When she was 10 years old Rachelle was treated by experts at the Royal Victoria Hospital, but believes medical treatment alone was not enough to cure her.

She said it was "through the power of prayer and God's Will that I am here today".

In her interview she revealed that she was inspired to speak out after teenager Josh Martin was trolled after talking publicly about how he, too, was cured by the power of prayer and aided by a faith healer.

"I remember seeing posts on Facebook of people, who when they saw the headline, reacted in frustration, anger and embarrassment. As if suggesting: 'How could God have a place in today's world, our world'?" she said.

Josh (14) was diagnosed with cancer last Christmas Eve after tumours were discovered in his stomach.

During his treatment the Bangor Grammar schoolboy had numerous blood transfusions, countless operations and endured chemotherapy from cancer specialists in Belfast.

His parents Tim and Kim, who are devout Christians, continued to believe he could be cured, despite an original diagnosis that some of the tumours were inoperable. The #prayforjosh social media campaign was started by Bangor Elim Church in support of Josh and his family as his father is a pastor at the church.

In October scans had shown there were no tumours and no sign of any cancer growth.

This week Kim, a civil servant, said the turning point in his recovery came after his third surgery, when the family were told about a ministry called Healing on the Streets (HOTS) in Coleraine. The Martins took Joshua to visit founder Mark Marx. They claim that when he noticed one of Joshua's legs was shorter than the other, he was able to make it grow in front of their eyes and, after the "miracle", Josh got out of his wheelchair and danced.

This sparked a fierce and emotional debate across mainstream and social media over the role faith plays for some people facing illness. Liam Clarke, political editor of the Belfast Telegraph, who himself has cancer, said that many claims on the power of prayer are personal.

He said that he believed faith brings benefits, but don't count on it to do the job of modern medicine. "It must be a wonderful feeling to be supported like that and then to get a new lease of life. But the two are not necessarily related and, unfortunately, you are never entirely free of leukaemia, though it can be controlled and monitored. Many cancers are like that."

Journalist Colm Keane, who lost his son Sean eight years ago to cancer, also spoke about his experience.

After a three-year battle, and with intensive treatment, Sean died on Christmas Day 2007.

He said: "Unfortunately, the thousands of prayers that were said and the desperate entreaties and promises made to a higher being were to no avail.

"Despite that, however, I have written two books on the miracles associated with the Italian saint Padre Pio, and, as an award-winning journalist of 35 years' standing, I am convinced that miracles or inexplicable cures with supernormal connections do happen."

Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus, said it recognised that faith can be a support to people.

But she encouraged anyone who had health concerns to visit a doctor for help.

"We recognise that people seek support in lots of different ways and faith can be a very strong means of support," she said.

"But medicine has a lot to offer and we would always say in the first instance that they should go and see their doctor and work in partnership with them to seek the best outcome for them."

Boyd Sleator, chairman for Atheist Northern Ireland, said he did not believe prayer played a meaningful role.

"As far as we are concerned prayer has a placebo effect and helps people give them some sort of support while going through it," he said.

"It can be helpful in that respect but it does not cure cancer. Prayer does not cure cancer."

Belfast Telegraph

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