Day 4 (June 2): As the Paris court considered the high doses of vitamins used in the programme, an expert witness dismissed Scientology’s Purification Rundown as quackery.
Proceedings in the second week of the trial of six Scientologists and two Scientology organisations in France opened with a complaint from the lawyers of defendant Sabine Jacquart.
Jacquart had, they said, been subject to harassment outside the court, which they described as an unacceptable attempt at intimidation.
The President of the Court, Judge Sophie-Hélène Château, while regretting any such incident, made it clear that every precaution had been taken to ensure that the trial took place in secure conditions.
The lawyers on all sides called for calm, though the defence side did note that while things might be proceeding properly in court, the atmosphere outside the court was far from serene.
Morice, for the plaintiffs, argued that there were two sides to that story. He recalled how during the actual investigation, the defence had questioned the impartiality of the investigating magistrate.
Jacquart's letter was duly noted and the judge moved on to the business of the day.1
Judge Château introduced the issue of Scientology’s Purification Rundown, from which the charges of illegal practice of pharmacy had arisen.
Château, working from the court’s files, said that the stated aim of the programme was to get rid of toxins that encumbered the body and prevented the person’s spiritual progress.
The programme involved taking large doses of vitamins and a calcium-magnesium solution known as Calmag, going for runs and spending extended periods in the sauna. It normally lasted for about 15 days.
And before doing the programme, the participant was required to provide a doctor’s certificate confirming that there were no medical objections.
While a lot of people had said the Purification Rundown had done them a great deal of good, others had quite a different recollection of their experience, said Judge Château: opinions also appeared to be divided among the experts.
“But we are not here to study the benefits, or otherwise, of the Purification Rundown, but the use of these vitamins,” she said.
Judge Château read extracts from a report submitted by a Dr. Pepin, a biologist who had been asked by investigators to examine the products that one of the plaintiffs, Aude-Claire Malton, had been given to take during her Purification Rundown.2
The vitamins were bought from a company called G&G, recommended to Malton by one of the staff members at the Celebrity Centre.
The package Malton had received for the Rundown, contained Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, D and H, together with magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, copper and zinc.
Pepin concluded that the manufacture, distribution and sale of these products were normally reserved for pharmacists. And in any case, these products required prior clearance by the French authorities before being put on the market.
A preliminary report from France’s health products watchdog, the AFSSAPS, had reached a similar conclusion.3
It was for this reason that France’s National Council of the Order of Pharmacists had become a plaintiff in the case.
The court called the head of legal and European affairs at the AFSSAPS, Mme Elisabeth Hérail, to give evidence.
Hérail explained that a medicine could be defined in terms of its presentation and its function.
Under French, law, if a product was presented as having curative or preventive properties regarding illnesses then it was a medicine by presentation. If it was used to restore, correct or change a person’s physiological condition, it was a medicine by function.
'A question of dosage'
Judge Château wanted to know if the vitamins seized by investigators in 1999 could be categorised as food supplements.
If all these products were marketed as having a medical use, then they were medicines by presentation, said Hérail. And the large quantities of, for example, Vitamin A and Vitamin E meant that they were being used as medicines.
The doses being used in the Purification Rundown were very much superior to normal doses, said Hérail. “It is clear that taking these vitamins in such large quantities can lead to side-effects.”
The levels of Vitamin A being taken, for example, would normally require a doctor’s prescription.
Hérail’s presentation was enthusiastic: she smiled a lot, her manner towards the judge assessors and the various lawyers was extremely polite: but she was not to be moved on the points she set out.
She was asked three times by members of the defence team whether the vitamins in question could be considered legitimate food supplements.
“Everything is a question of dosage,” she answered, each time.
But could these vitamins not legitimately be taken as food supplements, asked the defence?
Normal consumption of food in developed society meant that these kinds of food deficiencies did not occur, Hérail replied.
“When you have doses that are 10 times more than normal, it is absolutely obvious that they can change the function of the organ,” she added.
The two sides went back on forth on recent jurisprudence in the area and both sides seemed to know the territory well.
But Hérail stuck to her basic point: once you were dealing in very large doses for normal, healthy people with no obvious vitamin deficiencies, you were no longer dealing with vitamins as food supplements but as medicines.
Before calling the next witness, Judge Château had a large plastic bin bag brought in from where it had been hanging outside the courtroom window: this was what remained of the powders and pills Aude-Claire Malton, one of the plaintiffs, had been given for her Purification Rundown.
She explained that they had left it outside for the initial part of the day’s hearing because of its rather strong smell. Now she placed it on display in front of the bench and called the next witness.4
If Hérail’s presentation had been animated, her colleague, Stéphane Lange, a senior inspector at the AFSSAPS, seemed more reserved – at least at first.
He hunched forward over the microphone and, speaking extremely fast, plunged straight into the technical details. He confirmed first that high doses of some of the vitamins in question, such as Vitamin A, could be toxic.
He agreed, too, with the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Maître Olivier Morice, that whoever advised on a treatment involving such a combination of vitamins should be medically competent.
Morice described Mlle Malton’s experience with the Purification Rundown: the flushes she had experienced, the skin rash. Were these not contra-indications, said Morice?
“Everything can have side-effects, said Lange. “But whatever the medicine there is always a risk of intolerance: I can’t tell you more than that.”
But what about doses of 5,000 milligram’s of Vitamin A, asked Morice? “At that dosage there, it becomes medicine,” said Lange.
And Vitamin D? “There can be overdoses of Vitamin D,” he confirmed.
Judge Château took him back to the fact that these vitamins were all being taken at the same time. What then, she asked?
“That can have side-effects,” he said. But he was not a toxicologist, he added: he did not want to go further than that.
Surely, said one of the defence lawyers, if you took too much Vitamin C, the body would eliminate it. “Not necessarily,” said Lange. “It can have a toxic effect.”
Judge Château recalled Aude-Claire Malton, the plaintiff who had reported problems with the Purification Rundown, to the stand.
Malton had ordered the package of vitamins she needed for the Rundown from G&G. How had it been presented, asked Judge Château? Was there a letter explaining the products?
Malton explained the products had arrived in little sachets in a transparent plastic bag. There had been no instructions, just a list of vitamins which she had been asked to bring in when she did the Rundown.
“We had to take some before running and others before going into the sauna,” she explained. “The person who took care of the Purification gave us the daily doses.
“There were certain doses of vitamins to take and then as the days passed the doses of vitamins became bigger.
“After a certain number of days I started to have stomach cramps. I spoke to her [the supervisor] and she said I could take them at different parts of the day.”
So there were no instructions with the package, said Judge Château? No, said Malton: she was told to bring them in for the programme but there had been no instructions on how to take them.
Malton did not know if everyone was taking the same doses or not, but she said that every day the supervisor checked the doses they had taken before and then handed out doses she had prepared for that day.
But as had been the case on her first day of testimony, she could not identify who had supervised her from among the defendants in court.
Judge Château turned back to the pharmacist Lange, who had been listening to Malton’s account. She indicated the plastic bag full of pills and powders: was this kind of packaging normal, she asked?
“I would be very surprised if this kind of packaging would be authorised,” he said.
And as far prescribing the vitamins was concerned, did that require a particular competence or could anyone do it who could read the instructions, asked the judge?
“That is not exactly the question,” said Lange, and for a moment, he appeared to be ready to leave it at that. But then, unprompted, he spoke up again.
“Do you want a direct answer? This seems to me to be quackery (charlatanesque).”
Next in the series: A Cure for Radiation
1 At some point during discussion of the letter – or it may have been in the letter itself – there appeared to be a suggestion that the court itself might not be impartial. Judge Château described any such insinuation as “extremely unpleasant”.
2 This is probably Professeur Gilbert Pepin, a biologist with a doctorate in pharmacy and an appointed expert to the Paris courts.
3 AFSSAPS: l'Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des produits de santé (the French Agency for the Safety of Health Products)
4 Since I had a heavy cold that week, I'm afraid I couldn’t smell anything.