Lawrence Wright is the author of a new bestseller about Scientology, Going Clear. He’s an ace reporter who is plenty familiar with the topic of religious craziness, having previously written the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower, a history of al Qaeda and the road to 9/11 (highly recommended).
I’ve yet to read his latest, but remembered that Wright had published a lengthy exposé about Scientology a couple of years ago, in The New Yorker. I just re-read that piece, and was struck by the parallels between the case of Maricica Irina Cornici, the killed-by-her-peers Romanian nun I wrote about yesterday, and that of Lisa McPherson, a Scientology member who, 18 years ago, likewise died a terrible death at the hands of her co-religionists.
In Wright’s words, McPherson was
…a Scientologist who died after a mental breakdown, in 1995. She had rear-ended a car in Clearwater, Florida — where Scientology has its spiritual headquarters — and then stripped off her clothes and wandered naked down the street. She was taken to a hospital, but, in the company of several other Scientologists, she checked out, against doctors’ advice. (The church considers psychiatry an evil profession.) McPherson spent the next seventeen days being subjected to church remedies, such as doses of vitamins and attempts to feed her with a turkey baster. She became comatose, and she died of a pulmonary embolism before church members finally brought her to the hospital. The medical examiner in the case, Joan Wood, initially ruled that the cause of death was undetermined, but she told a reporter, “This is the most severe case of dehydration I’ve ever seen.”
Deep psychological problems (possibly schizophrenia), check. A mental breakdown, check. Failure of fellow believers to seek or allow medical help, check. Multi-day practical imprisonment ‘for the victim’s own good,’ check. Dehydration and physical collapse, check. Death, check. (Note: Forensics experts hired by Scientology disputed some of the official autopsy’s findings.)
But there’s also a key difference between the two cases. People went to jail in Romania after Cornici died. By contrast, not a single Scientologist was ever properly held to account in McPherson’s death.
Scientology is still dogged by accusations that it holds members captive who wish to leave, and/or who have mental problems. Here’s such a report from just last week.
[Lisa McPherson photo via Facebook]