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Scientology Charged

Hubbard's teachings guide treatment of mental illness

By THOMAS C. TOBIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 1998


CLEARWATER -- When Lisa McPherson left Morton Plant Hospital with her fellow Scientologists, she crossed a line between worlds that differ sharply on how mental illness should be treated.


The unusually long investigation began the day after McPherson died, Dec. 5, 1995.
Related stories:
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The Scientologists who watched her for the next 17 days relied on the teachings of their late founder, L. Ron Hubbard, who scorned psychiatry and wrote that any apprentice of his mental health practices "knows more and can do more about the mind than any psychiatrist."

In contrast, doctors at Morton Plant would have placed McPherson in the care of psychiatrists if her psychotic behavior had continued theway it did in front of her fellow Scientologists. McPherson would have entered a system governed by the Florida Mental Health Act.

Hubbard taught that the psychotic person is a "potential trouble source" who is connected to forces opposed to Scientology. People who behave as psychotics are "unethical" and "immoral," he wrote.

Under the state system, the psychotic person is viewed more as a victim of mental illness, often caused by chemical imbalance.

At Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel, McPherson was to be kept in a room until a "case supervisor" decided she was well.

State law grants similar authority to hospital administrators. But McPherson would have been allowed to contest her confinement before a judge within days, and she would have been given the chance to help write her own "treatment plan."

No one at the Fort Harrison called McPherson's mother, who is not a Scientologist. A licensed mental health facility in Florida would have been required to alert her mother within 24 hours.

Such a facility also would have been subject to state inspections and state standards for care. That was not the case at the Fort Harrison, where McPherson's caregivers made do in a hotel environment.

Even Hubbard said "entirely psychotic" people such as McPherson were beyond the expertise of Scientology organizations "not equipped with hospitals." He said "a proper institution would have to be provided" before Scientologists could effectively care for psychotics. Such a facility would offer "only rest, quiet and medical assistance for intravenous feedings," he wrote.

The Fort Harrison has no provision for intravenous feedings. So, when McPherson refused to take nutrition, staffers tried to force it down her throat.

In 1973, Hubbard announced a "cure" for psychotic behavior that included isolating the person so he or she can "destimulate" and not pose a threat. It also required that no one talk in the person's presence and that he or she be given vitamins and minerals "to build the person up." Indeed, McPherson's treatment was consistent with those directives.

Hubbard also instructed attendants to use "gentle persuasion." The goal, he said, is to rest the person in preparation for Scientology counseling, which Hubbard considered more effective and humane than psychiatry. Had McPherson been taken to a psychiatric facility, she probably would have received medication to calm her, psychiatrists say. She also might have been restrained, if necessary, and given intravenous feedings.

Hubbard died in 1986, but his anti-psychiatry zeal has been passed on to his followers, who recently began a campaign to "take over the field of mental health by the year 2000."

 

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