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The Lisa McPherson Case 

I was very sorry to hear about Lisa's death. Everyone who knew her must feel terrible - her family, her friends and the people who helped her after her nervous breakdown and accident. I know I'd be heartbroken.

I once helped someone in Scientology who was recovering after a breakdown. I'd take him for drives around the countryside and to the beach. The idea was to give him a peaceful, safe environment where he could relax. Part of the program was not originating communication to him. If he spoke to me I'd acknowledge him, but otherwise we were just trying to give him a quiet space.

He was a bit obnoxious sometimes but we got through it. Later he came to my office and thanked me.

I've seen someone else I know have a breakdown and get put in the local psychiatric ward. This wasn't a Scientologist. While he was there at least one person committed suicide. I went to see him a few times. It was a terrible place and he became far worse after being committed. I knew another woman (again a non-Scientologist) who had a breakdown, and suffered great indignities both through being institutionalized, and because of the drugs she was given. These robbed her of much of her bubbly personality.

Because of the terrible accusations that I have read on the internet about the Lisa McPherson case there are some key references which anyone who regularly reads the relevant news groups should look at.

One is an article from the St. Petersburg Times which covers an offer David Miscavige made in 1998 to try and settle the case. It's an interesting document because it mentions some important facts that have been largely, or completely, ignored by the critics. The most important in my opinion is that the church has now established  protocols with a local hospital so that they can take care of any future Scientologists who develop mental problems. Without establishing such guidelines, it was always going to be a very difficult decision about how to look after such cases. This is because the church has (rightly in my opinion) taken a strong stance against certain psychiatric practices. (I have written more about my own view of psychiatry here.



From The St. Petersburg Times, June 14, 2000:

'He [David Miscavige] also promised steps to ensure a death like McPherson's never occurred again.

. . .

'It [the Church] would have a doctor on call 24 hours a day at
Scientology's Clearwater operation. And it would establish a protocol with local hospitals that detailed how Scientologists with mental problems should be cared for in light of Scientology's vigorous opposition to psychiatry.

'Miscavige disclosed the deal in a wide-ranging interview Tuesday, a day after McCabe dropped felony charges that accused the church of abusing a disabled adult and practicing medicine on McPherson without a license. The prosecutor cited serious credibility problems with the testimony of Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood.

'Shortly after Miscavige made the offer in 1998, McCabe turned it down and made no counter proposal.

'"That conversation didn't last very long," the prosecutor said Tuesday. "I didn't think (the offer) spoke appropriately to the conduct we had charged."

'Also Tuesday, Scientology's 40-year-old leader told the Times he wants his church to move beyond the case, in part by opening its doors and reaching out to explain itself better to the public. Had the church done a better job of that before, he said, McPherson's death might not have been investigated so aggressively. . . . The proposed deal came after Miscavige resolved the church would never plead guilty or no contest to
the two charges.

'"My concern was the stigmatizing of an entire religion and all its members," he said. "I said, 'Well, there's absolutely no way, no way would it be acceptable for me to have a church with a criminal record. None. None.'"

'On Monday, when McCabe dropped the charges, the church walked away bruised but legally exonerated. The prosecutor said he had "no regrets" about turning down Miscavige early on.

'"It would have saved a lot of heartache," McCabe said of the proposed deal, "but I still think (turning it down) was the right thing to do."

'Despite the prosecutor's reaction, the church implemented two elements of the deal anyway -- the on-call doctor and the hospital protocols, Miscavige said.

'The offer came on the second of what would be as many as 10 meetings with prosecutors as Miscavige seized the initiative and threw himself into matters that normally might be left to subordinates.

'Miscavige has taken similar steps before, most notably in 1991, when he showed up in person and uninvited at IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C., asking for a meeting with the agency's commissioner. He eventually got several meetings and a two-year review that led to Scientology's tax exempt status in 1993, a feat that squadrons of church lawyers had been unable to accomplish before.

'Miscavige had assumed the reins of Scientology in 1986 at age 26, operating out of the church's administrative headquarters in Los Angeles. Twelve years later, at Scientology's spiritual hub in Clearwater, the church was charged with a crime for the first time since its founding in 1954.

'After the deal fell through with McCabe, Miscavige said the church's lawyers wanted to forge ahead with an aggressive defense. But he disagreed with them and began looking for other ways to settle the case without a trial or a plea, and without any "explosions."

'He said he sought experts to tell him whether McPherson was as dehydrated as prosecutors and Wood had said she was. He also wanted to know whether she had lost more than 40 pounds, another charge made by prosecutors.

'Miscavige said many consultants hired by the church told him the state's allegations were false. Last fall, as church lawyers tried to get the case dismissed on constitutional grounds, Miscavige said he prepared for another attempt at a quiet resolution.

'The church asked Wood to reconsider her conclusion that McPherson death was "undetermined" and that she died of a blood clot caused by "bed rest and severe dehydration." Miscavige oversaw the assembly of thousands of pages of medical studies, consultant reports and other documents that
were given to Wood.

'In February, after reviewing those documents, Wood changed her conclusions, calling McPherson's death an accident and deleting the references to "bed rest and severe dehydration" on the death certificate.

'Miscavige said Tuesday the church exerted no pressure on the veteran medical examiner. That claim is supported in a June 1 sworn statement in which Wood said she felt as much pressure from prosecutors as she did from the church. She also said the church's opinions on the case "had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to change (the death certificate). I changed it based on my scientific and medical and ethical opinions."

'The change led to a review of the case by McCabe's office and eventually to dropping the case.'

You can read the full article by searching for the above text at the St. Petersburg Times website.


The fact that the church was able to learn from the case and has implemented changes to make sure that something similar won't happen again is a very positive sign.

The second document is the newspaper report (again from the St. Petersburg Times) which first announced the State Attorney's dropping of the criminal case.

It's entitled "State Drops Charges Against Scientology" and opens with: "Blaming the medical examiner for damaging their case, prosecutors quietly end the inquiry into Lisa McPherson's death."

You can read it by searching for the above words at the St. Petersburg Times website. It's an article from 13 June, 2000 (the day before the first article above):


The final piece is a court document which dismisses one of the most important charges against the church. It goes over the charges thoroughly and finds them unsound.

False Imprisonment Claim Dismissed (this link is now broken)


I was very pleased to see (in the first article cited above) that Flag has now established protocols with the local hospitals for the treatment of Scientologists with mental problems. As a critic on a.r.s. pointed out, it is Scientology policy that
"Type Three [psychosis] is beyond the facilities of [Scientology] orgs not equipped with hospitals."

~Another~ thing they appear to have done to try and stop this kind of thing happening again is to tighten up on just who is allowed to take services:

And it looks as if the management is probably trying to stop people having services or auditing if they are under pressure from family members.

This is ~one~ reason why the number of picketers has been shrinking over the years (as I explain in the following essay). 


Incidentally, I really feel for anyone who is in the position of being refused service. But if you are reading this - just don't let it bother you. I'm actually in good standing but I haven't taken any services for over ten years. Instead I attend events, read books and listen to tapes.

Get trained (if possible), start a group if you can, and study regularly at home. There's no shortage of Scientology materials to get through, think about and apply to life.

Lisa McPherson's death was undoubtedly a tragedy for everyone concerned, and I'm very glad that some changes have been made. I also believe that its traumatic impact was exacerbated by some of the opportunist opponents of the church, and that to minimize this, it is important to look closely at what actually happened for oneself. 



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