Hubbard's casual approach to epilepsy and the use of medication to limit seizures reflects his broader contempt for conventional medicine.
The Medical Officer in the Sea Org may discontinue a drug at any point regardless of medical prescriptions as he is in a position to observe assist and processing results the medical doctor may not be aware are occurring.
L. Ron Hubbard, “The role of the Medical Officer” October 3, 1970.
The Narconon programme, as we have already established, is based on the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.1 His suspicion of, even hostility towards, conventional medicine is well documented.
In a 1969 policy letter, “Drugs, Aspirin and Tranquilizers”, Hubbard argued that the problem with aspirin and other painkillers was that nobody really understood how they worked.2
Hubbard announced that he had now discovered that pain came from the mental image pictures dealt with in Scientology or Dianetic processing – but the problem with these drugs that they interfered with that processing.
“If you process someone who has lately been on drugs, including aspirin, you will not be able to run out the Dianetic engram chains properly because they are not being fully created...
“A person who has taken aspirin or other drugs within the past 24 hours or the past week, should be given a week to 'dry out' before auditing of any kind is given.”
That is why auditors – those conducting Scientology therapy – should ask their prospective client: “Have you been taking any drugs or aspirin?”, he added.
“Drug companies would be advised to do better research,” Hubbard declared, in the same policy letter.
The good news is that we know more about how how aspirin works, thanks in large part to the work of British researcher John R. Vane, the joint winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Medicine.
The bad news for Hubbard is that it does not involve processing mental image pictures.
Nevertheless, Hubbard's position is still repeated, in one form or another, on Scientology websites.3
Recent testimony to a French Senate committee into cult-like influences on the health sector spelled out how Hubbard's teachings affected some Scientologists.
The report, published last month, quoted from Jenna Miscavige Hill's memoir, Beyond Belief. During the committee hearings, senators had presented some of their witnesses with some of allegations set out in Hill's book. 4
Hill, the niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige, told how she and and other children of Scientologists working in the Sea Org were kept at a place called the Ranch away from their parents, the report notes.
And it quotes Hill's account, where she writes: “I never went to the doctor the entire time I was at the ranch.”
The Senate also noted a passage in which Hill writes: “One rule that was firm, however, was that no matter how sick a kid was, we never used drugs to relieve pain or reduce fever.
“Drugs were considered bad and weren't even available.”
The only medicines allowed were antibiotics “...but you would have to go to a real doctor to get them, which was pretty rare,” she adds.
The report quoted this disturbing passage in which Hill recalls: “There were time when I was extremely sick with a high temperature (102 or 103 degrees) to the point of nearly passing out, even vomiting, and I was simply told to drink fluids and get rest.”5
In his testimony, former member turned critic Roger Gonnet confirmed the movement's aversion to conventional medicine.
“You have to ask permission to go to the doctor or take a medicine,” he told the committee drawing up the report. “It's the supervisor who gives permission.”6
If this was Hubbard's stance for a relatively anodine drug such as aspirin, the same applied for more serious drugs, such as anti-depressants – and anti-epilepsy medication.
Hubbard's contempt for the drug treatments in general translated into a casual approach to conventional medication for epilepsy. In comments over the years, he always gave the impression that he knew more about epilepsy than the medical profession.
In a 1972 lecture, he spoke disparagingly of doctors complaining about his staff taking their clients off their epilepsy medication.
“...[T]he doctor will call up plaintively asking you to please put her back on the drug because she needs this. And you get into a collision between medical treatment and so on.”
He dismissed the medication doctors prescribed for epileptics as “some minor drug” and “just a tranquilizer”: for Hubbard, this was another case of doctors needlessy doping up their patients.
It was not as if he did not understand how serious a violent a fit could be.
“...[I]f an epileptic ever took you by the hand and so forth, he's liable to break every bone in your hand, if he suddenly had a seizure,” he said in one lecture.
He simply declared that Scientology could handle it.7
Britain's Epilepsy Society describes the condition as “...a common serious neurological condition where there is a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain.”8
It notes that seizures can be triggered by a range of things, the most common of which include “...tiredness and lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, and not taking medication.”
Underlying causes of the condition include “...structural damage to the brain, from birth, from a stroke, or an infection such as meningitis, or through a head injury.”9
Hubbard's explanations were rather more exotic.
Early on, he seemed to suggest that one cause of epileptic seizures was the effect of particularly persistent “engrams” – his term for the negative mental charges his Dianetics system was supposed to clear away.
“Every once in a while we find an engram in the bank which has enough power in it to start pulling other engrams into it,” he declared in a 1950 lecture.
In such cases, Hubbard said, the subject of the Dianetics auditing would resist attempts to get to the engram at the root of the problem.
“For instance, he will curl up and argue. Or he will go into an epileptiform seizure every time he repeats any word in his reactive bank. It's all hanging up on one incident.”
Persistent auditing however, would solve the problem he said.10
Very quickly, as the technical, mechanical style of Dianetics gave way to the more mystical imagery of Scientology, his explanations became even more bizarre.
In one 1952 lecture he explained how epileptic seizures could be the result of being zapped by thetans – the immortal beings at the centre of Scientology's cosmology.
Once upon a time, he said thetans had acted as “guardians of a wood, or something”, protecting the animals in the area.
So if one of those primitive cavemen tried to hunt and kill such animals, the thetan would punish him “...by throwing a good heavy electronic beam at him, ka-bap!
“...and the thing goes into contortions and epileptic form seizures and a few other things, and it’s very uncomfortable.”11
There was more of the same over the years, and not always terribly lucid.
But this much was clear: for Hubbard, conventional medication got in the way of the only treatment that really worked – Scientology – and as such could be dismissed.
This was nonsense of course – just the kind of nonsense that cost Jocelyne Dorfmann her life (see Part One of this series, listed below).
Nor was she the only victim of Hubbard's pseudo-scientific dogma.
Articles in the Ignoring Epilepsy series:
2“Drugs, Aspirin and Tranquilizers”, Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, October 17, 1969.
4 Beyond Belief: my Secret Life Inside Scientology and my Harrowing Escape, by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer (William Morrow, 2013). Published in France as Rescapée de la Scientologie (Kero, 2013)
5 Pages 56-7 of the paperback edition of Hill's book; page 28 of the Senate report. If this passage looks familiar to some readers, it is because I ran a brief account of Hill's influence on Senate report at Tony Ortega's site, The Underground Bunker, on April 11: “Jenna Miscavige Hill’s Book Cited in New French Senate Committee Report”. I did not at that time include the quoted passages because I had not yet read the book.
7 “Expanded Dianetics and Word Clearing”, April 7, 1972 lecture. And here is the audio version of the passage in question. In his description of violent seizure he seems to have confused the “grand mal” and “petit mal” seizure. He goes on to dismiss the appropriate medical terms as “gobbledygook”.
This and all the following examples were tracked down and posted by Caroline Letkeman, for which, not for the first time, my thanks.