If the idea of a "miracle" feels out of place anywhere, it's in hospital waiting rooms. The sterile experience of getting an IV and wearing a scratchy paper gown and being surrounded by neutral landscape paintings can obscure the intense, emotional questions tangled up in sickness: Why do bodies break down the way they do? Why do some people get sick while others stay healthy? And if doctors can't save someone, can God?
A lot of people do seem to think so. In a 2008 study published in the Archives of Surgery, 57 percent of non-medical workers said they thought divine intervention could save a sick family member, even if doctors said further treatment would be useless. And 61 percent said they believed in miracles for people in a persistent vegetative state, like Terri Schiavo. This isn't necessarily a sign that people just want to hang onto their loved ones no matter what; 72 percent were comfortable with the idea of stopping treatment if a doctor says someone is going to die. If anything, believing in miracles is more of a resignation, a last-ditch hand-off to the heavens.
But doctors aren't so into the miracle thing. In the same study, only 20 percent of a large sample of trauma-care workers said they believed in medical miracles. Many people believe faith complements medicine; seeing God in physician's work can be a source of comfort. But things can get awkward for doctors who don't believe in God, a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins wrote in a paper published this month.