Letters to Harpers About Lisa McPherson

February 2004 Issue

Sign of Life?

It is somewhat mystifying that Harper's Magazine chose to publish a document some Church of Scientology parishioners elect to sign to ensure that they will never be subjected to psychiatric "treatment" and so that they will receive spiritual assistance in times of emotional turmoil ["Stayin' Alive," Readings, November 2003]. Revulsion to electroshock, chemical restraint, lobotomy, and other manifestations of psychiatric barbarism is hardly confined to Scientologists. Legions of informed people worldwide recognize and reject the false solutions and destructive practices the psychiatric industry endorses in the name of science.

Furthermore, the editors misconstrued matters of public record in the Reading's introduction. The facts about Lisa McPherson's death were clearly established more than three years ago when a Florida State medical examiner, after consultation with numerous experts, determined that her death resulted from a blood clot owing to trauma likely incurred in a traffic accident before she arrived at the church's retreat. A judicial finding made more than two years ago established that McPherson desired to be helped in a manner consistent with her religious beliefs, and that she had been assisted twenty-four hours a day by church members who also ensured that she ingested food and drink daily.

The false statements made in Harper's Magazine insult the religious workers who did what they knew would help McPherson's spiritual and mental condition.

William T. Drescher
Calabasas, Calif.

[Mr. Drescher is Scientology's lead attorney in the Lisa McPherson case. -- DST]

The editors respond:

On December 6, 1995, Florida State medical examiner Joan Wood signed an autopsy report for Lisa McPherson that designated her cause of death a "thrombo-embolism . . . due to bed rest and severe dehydration." On February 16, 2000, three years after McPherson's family pressed criminal charges against the Church of Scientology, Wood removed "bed rest and severe dehydration" as the causes of the embolism from the report, replacing them with "traumatic hemorrhage to the left popliteal area"-a space behind the knee joint.

In June 1, 2000, testimony about the changes, Wood admitted that although she had added a traffic accident that had occurred seventeen days before McPherson's admission to the Fort Harrison Hotel (the church's Clearwater, Florida, headquarters) as a factor relating to McPherson's death, she had done so only because "it was that event which set about the chain of factors," and that "clearly, absolutely, the car accident had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Lisa McPherson developed a pulmonary embolus." When questioned about her reason for removing dehydration as a cause of the embolism, Wood stated, "I do think that she was dehydrated and that she was in a coma for a period of time," and that her opinion "as to the severity of dehydration that existed or the degree of incapacitation or length of incapacitation" had not changed "in a significant fashion." Wood conceded that she had considered "changing [the report] back," and had also considered ruling the death a homicide.

Another letter to the editor:

The Church of Scientology has never accepted moral responsibility for Lisa McPherson's death. The organization's stonewalling delayed the police investigation, and its litigation tactics have kept the McPherson family's wrongful-death lawsuit from going to trial. The Scientology release form is just further proof that the church has no intention of changing its behavior.

David S. Touretzky

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Dave Touretzky
Last modified: Thu Mar 11 20:49:25 EST 2004