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Of right, wrong and a so-called church

By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 22, 1998


With Thanksgiving coming up later this week, I'd like to suggest that as you baste your turkey with your handy-dandy turkey baster, you imagine for a moment what it would be like if somebody tried to stick one of those gizmos down your throat.

While you were being held down, of course.

I speak not on behalf of the rights of some noisy, plump bird from Frank Perdue but on behalf of a starved, severely disturbed woman, Lisa McPherson, now quite dead. Anyway, it may not be that much of a stretch to suggest the turkeys get better treatment than McPherson did at the hands of Scientologists.

The turkeys, at least, don't get tortured.

The usual rules of the game require that I withhold judgment on the charges of criminal neglect and practicing medicine without a license that were filed against the Church of Scientology on Nov. 13 by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe in connection with McPherson's death in 1995.

But the good guys finally struck back at that collection in Clearwater of the glassy-eyed, the robotic and the rich.

And the just plain sick.

The Scientologists didn't literally use a turkey baster to force pseudo-medical cocktails into McPherson, but a device that operates under the same principle, called an irrigation syringe. Imagine a needleless syringe bigger than the one used to give you a flu shot. Honest-to-God medical people use it to flush wounds, said Ken Dandar, the attorney for McPherson's survivors, who are suing the Scientologists.

According to the affidavit that accompanied the criminal charges, at one time or another during her enforced 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel, McPherson was pumped with concoctions that would have impressed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: magnesium, a sedative called chloral hydrate, aspirin, the antihistamine Benadryl, and assorted vitamins and herbs. Scientology mumbo-jumbo swears it was going to save her from her psychosis.

Or would it?

Ken Dandar possesses a document on the treatment of the mentally ill from the great madman himself, L. Ron Hubbard, in which he calmly declares about people in McPherson's condition: "(T)here will always be some failures as the insane sometimes withdraw into rigid unawareness as a final defense (and) sometimes can't be kept alive."

The great madman expresses no regret at such incidental losses. But wonder of wonders, his followers do.

A hearing will be held on the criminal charges on Nov. 30, and the Scientologists vow to resolve them quickly. They say nothing like this will ever happen again.

It may be that Hubbard, wherever he is, has undergone a change of heart and is sending moonbeams of insight to his earthly lieutenants. But Ken Dandar thinks his explanation is likelier:

If the church pleads no contest to McCabe's criminal charges, the criminal case can't even be mentioned in the civil suit.

On the other hand, if the church fights the charges and loses, the criminal case can be cited in the civil proceedings. This would almost certainly drive up the cost of a settlement.

And holy Hubbard, a little less money in the treasury might mean one less building in the Clearwater empire of this monstrously manipulative bunch.

Think of them this Thursday. Remember the suffering Lisa McPherson endured at the hands of the minions of this alleged church that she once thought could rescue her from her demons.

Lift that turkey baster high. Give a cheer for the good guys.

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