When a German documentary team investigated Scientology in 1997 they discovered a whole series of unexplained deaths at its Clearwater base, billed as the movement's centre of excellence.
|Would Scientology really dare claim a cure for epilepsy?|
Ballin was trying to replace Pfaff's meds with a vitamin-mineral combination devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. As we have seen in a previous article, Hubbard claimed that Scientology could cure epilepsy along with a host of other illnesses.1
When film-makers Mona Botros and Egmont R. Koch discovered the nature of the treatment Pfaff had been receiving before his death they took their findings to a specialist at a German hospital.
Professor Günther Schwendemann, head of the neurology ward at Bremen-Ost Hospital dismissed the vitamin-minerals combination as worthless for the treament of epilepsy.
“I can tell you with the utmost probability, that with adequate treatment the patient would still be alive today,” the professor told them.
Armed with details of Pfaff's death from the Clearwater police reports and the medical examiner's conclusion, Botros and Koch approached Ballin for his response.
Although he did not want to be interviewed on camera, he did write them a five-and-a-half page letter in which he set out his position.
Botros and Koch have been kind enough to supply Infinite Complacency with a copy of that letter and it makes for interesting reading.
In it, Ballin:
- makes undocumented medical claims that Dianetics can help epileptics;
- confirms that his course of treatment involved taking Pfaff off his epilepsy medication;
- appears to suggest that Pfaff had been free of seizures in the run-up to his death, contradicting his earlier account to Clearwater Police.
Ballin started off with a lot of technical detail, complete with medical citations, about the epileptic condition: how serious, even life-threatening, it can be – and how to treat it.
He then dealt with Phenhydan, the anti-convulsant drug that Heribert had been taking, detailing its side effects and how serious, even life-threatening they can be.
All that took up the first two pages, but Ballin's main point appeared to be this:
In this situation, a patient is open to alternatives and reaches for them as a life jacket. Furthermore, any responsible doctor will always try repeatedly to keep the risk of treatment as low as possible and considering the physical condition of his patient, to keep the medication dosage as low as possible or to substitute it.2
It was at this point that he brought up his alternative treatment.
“In the early 1970s, it was possible to keep epileptics seizure-free with 'Dianetics',” he wrote. Here however, there were no supporting medical citations.
He went on to note that a prerequisite for Dianetics treatment “was to be completely free of alcohol and medication”, which corresponds with Hubbard's writings.
The Pfaffs, he wrote, had first come to him for help in April 1986. At first, he had kept Heribert Pfaff on his medication, supplementing it with “neurotropic vitamins and anti-convulsive electrolytes”, while also assigning him daily concentration exercises.
For these concentration exercises, wrote Ballin, he was supervised by “an experienced person”. He does not say if that was some kind of Scientology processing.
Ballin also says he prescribed a “biomolecular seizure therapy” as recommended by a Professor Theurer.
Professor Karl Eugen Theurer founded the vitOrgan company, which describes itself as a pharmaceutical group, based near Stuttgart, in Germany. Its promotional literature draws parallels between his “biomolecular” research and that of Nobel-prizewinning contemporaries.3
Not everyone however is convinced of the benefits of vitOrgan products: a brief search turns up two critical papers on the PubMed database.
One paper, published in 1994, questions the scientific basis of the claims made for one product, NeyTumorin, offered for a range of conditions, “from cancer prevention to long-treatment of malignancies”.4
A second paper, from 2002, records a case of a 54-year-old cancer patient admitted to hospital with fever and chills after having been injected with the product. “This case underscores the risk of invasive alternative medicine treatments, which are not subject to adequate scrutiny by the health authorities,” the abstract notes.5
It is not clear which vitOrgan product Ballin used on Pfaff: but these two papers raise serious questions about the company's products.6
Having outlined his preliminary treatment, Ballin wrote that once this had been done, it was possible to gradually begin taking Pfaff off his anti-convulsant medication Phenhydan. He wrote:
After about one year of the above preparation, a careful reduction of the phenhydan dosage with reciprocal increase in the vitamin-mineral medication may be carried out cautiously and, which in turn - depending on progress - may take about another year.
The vitamin-mineral dosage appears to be a reference to the formula prescribed by Hubbard for use in the Purification Rundown – part of his controversial drug treatment programme – mentioned a little later in his letter.
Under the conditions described above the preparatory steps for the Dianetics process can be taken in the meantime, which should complete the entire program. In this context, I would like to point out that Dianetics - slightly modified and completely independent of Scientology - now being called "Traumatic Incident Reduction" (TIR) is being used in the U.S. Army.
This too is problematic. A query to Dr Frank Gerbode, the psychiatrist – and former Scientologist – who developed Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) brought a swift and unambiguous reply.
“We have no relationship with Scientology or Dianetics, organizationally or in our methods,” he wrote.
“I also know of no official connections between our organization and the US military, though some of our methods have been used to help PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] conditions acquired in the military.
“We would certainly not presume to treat epilepsy or any other medical condition with our methods.”7
Ballin went on in his letter:
Since the beginning of 1988, I was only informed sporadically about Mr Pfaff´s progress, as he had to consult a qualified doctor because of the eligibility examination and possible supervision of the Purification Rundown.
At the beginning of June 1988, I heard from him for the last time.
In August 1988, during my vacation in Florida, there was an unexpected encounter with Mrs Pfaff, who happily informed me that her husband – seizure-free for months – was also there; but I did not see him any more face-to face and alive. Everything else is well known to you.
This passage in particular raises more questions than it answers.
We know from Markus Stuckenbrock, that Pfaff had not been free of seizures in the months leading up to his journey to Clearwater: he had been called in precisely because Pfaff's wife could not cope with the violence of his night-time fits.
And we know from Scientology salesman Fred Oxaal that on the eve of his death Pfaff was still suffering the horrific after-effects of a recent fit, during which he had crushed part of his tongue. (For their accounts see the first part of this article.)
In 1988, Heribert Pfaff's wife told Clearwater police investigating her husband's death that she had not been able to sleep in the same room as his because of the violence of his night-time seizures – something Ballin himself confirmed to one of the investigating officers, according to police reports.
Yet in his 1997 letter to the German documentary film-makers however, there is no mention of this: quite the opposite in fact.
It is not clear how Ballin can account for this discrepancy.
In their written questions to the doctor, the filmmakers asked if he now thought the treatment he had prescribed for Pfaff had been a mistake.
Every treatment had its risks, Ballin wrote back: and different patients react in different ways.
Some patients become seizure- and medication-free - and then comes one patient who after many seizure-free months experiences a [fit] and dies: You will not use this form of therapy again, because the risk suddenly became much too great. If one wants to see a mistake in this, then we doctors all repeatedly make mistakes.
But where were these success stories? Where were the epileptics who successfully came off their medication thanks to Dianetics? Ballin doesn't say.
He does not explicitly claim to have handled any such cases himself. And for a doctor so willing to cite medical authorities elsewhere in his letter, when it comes to Dianetics he is a little short on case histories.
Could he perhaps have been referring to Scientology's own literature?
Perhaps he came across something like this testimonial, which even today is published on the What is Scientology? website:
During the sixteen years I suffered attacks of excruciating blinding and stabbing pains through my eyes and head. My body would go rigid and my throat, mouth and arms would go numb. Then I would throw up every twenty minutes for eight hours before the pain would subside.
These attacks occurred from the ages of eleven to twenty-seven years, until I had Dianetics auditing. These attacks vanished after Dianetics auditing at the age of twenty-seven. Today, ten years later, I have helped hundreds of people achieve similar results with Dianetics auditing.
Hundreds of similar cases!
Ballin's other letter
There is one, final footnote to this story, which brings us full circle.
Klaus Ballin had told the film-makers that he had given up practising as a doctor and that he was no longer a Scientologist.9 The available information appears to bear this out.10
At the website of Narconon International however, you can still read the 1984 letter he wrote for them endorsing their drugs treatment programme.
Under the headline “Narconon endorsed by Doctor in Germany”, the website reproduces the document, complete with a handy English translation:
Since I have worked with Narconon from its establishment in Gmund am Tegernsee, and since I know well the methods of treatment practiced ther [sic] for drug dependency and addiction, I can verify that Narconon is a successful and well established enterprise. Especially noteworthy are the enormous dedication and personal involvement of the staff of Narconon.11
|Dr Ballin's endorsment of Narconon: still online|
Ballin then, endorsed the pseudo-scientific treatment offered at Narconon – the kind of treatment which, as we have seen, killed Jocelyne Dorfmann in France. He did not reply to my written request for a response to these points.
But at least in France they do things differently, as we have seen.12
When Dorfmann died in 1984, the authorities investigated, prosecuted and convicted the two people most responsible.
The Narconon centre where she spent her last hours closed later the same year and the organisation has not operated in France since.
The only thing the authorities did not pick up on, was the degree to which Dorfmann's death was the product of Hubbard's belief system.
Today in the United States, the deaths at Narconon centres are mounting up.
But for the most part, it has been left to the families of those who died to launch themselves into the costly lottery of civil lawsuits.
Articles in the Ignoring Epilepsy series:
Death in France” (Jocelyne Dorfmann's 1984 death at a Narconon
Centre as she tried to come off her epilepsy medication)
'Magoo' Christman's Story”
Death of Heribert Pfaff I”
- “The Death of Heribert Pfaff II”
2 From Ballin's letter to journalist Egmont Koch, March 18, 1997.
3 One of the company brochures declares: Biomolecular vitOrgan therapy makes use of natural, regulatory and metabolically-effective organ substances which serve to once again normalise processes which have gotten out of balance as a result of disease.
In a section sub-titled “The material from which Nobel prizes are won” the brochure draws parallels between Theurer's work and that of several Nobel-prize winning scientists. “Through the Nobel prize, this form of therapy has been revaluated decisively...,” it claims later in the brochure.
It goes on to describe company founder Karl Eugen Theurer as “an uncontrollable pioneer”.
4 “Neytumorin as biomodular onco-therapy – allegations without documentation”: Praxis (Bern 1994). 1997 Apr 30;86(18):750-61, by Allewelt MC, Hauser SP (in German). The paper describes Neytumorin as “...a combination of peptides and proteins of 15 different organs from fetal and young pigs and cows.” It notes that its preclinical trials were not adequately documented nor were its active components defined. “Often extremely high concentrations of NeyTumorin were used,” it continued. “Clinical studies including prospective randomized trials are not conclusive because of false or insufficient documentation. There is no proof for either the claimed mechanism of action nor for a clinical efficacy.”
5 Harefuah, 2002 May; 141(5): 433-4, 499. “Fever and chills following intravenous administration of NeyTumorin--an unconventional xenogenous derived peptides extract”, by Ben-Horin S, Zaks N. Dept. of Medicine F, Sheba Medical Center Sackler School of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University (article in Hebrew). The abstract of the paper notes: During hospitalization, it was learned that her symptoms appeared an hour after a drug named NeyTumorin was administered to her intravenously by an alternative medicine practitioner. NeyTumorin is part of cell therapy, which is an alternative medicine therapy involving the administration of farm animals derived preparation of peptides from several organs, including the diencephalon and hypophysis.
6 And there's more: the website of the Irish Medicines Board notes a warning from the Italian Medicines Agency about batches of two of vitOrgan's “homeopathic Medicinal Products”. The Italians had banned the products, eyedrops, which had caused “a serious ocular adverse event in Italy”.
And Dr. Stephen Barrett, who runs Quackwatch among other websites, has another website monitoring malpractice among chiropractors. He relates the case of a chiropractor who was fined and had his licence suspended after putting a cancer patient on two vitOrgan products, NeyTumorin and NeyThymin.
The patient died in December 1987, within weeks of starting the treatment: not from cancer but “necrosis of the liver caused by a toxic reaction to a foreign substance...”, noted Barrett. “The autopsy found no cancerous tissue in Pereyra's liver.” (The chiropractor unsuccessfully appealed the ruling against him.)
While vitOrgan cannot be held responsible for what may simply have been the misuse of its products, one point about NeyTumorin and NeyThymin is worth noting. “The primary ingredient in both substances is animal protein,” noted Barrett. “Neither is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration...,” he added.
It is not clear from the vitOrgan website whether either of these two products is still being used.
7 My thanks to Frank Gerbode for his prompt reply.
Gerbode, it should be made clear, was a Scientologist in the 1970s, but fought a legal battle with them in the 1990s, which among other things earned Scientology lawyer Helena Kobrin an $8,887 fine for barratry for filing what was held to be a frivolous complaint (Religious Technology Center, Inc. v. Frank Gerbode). See here for a more digestible version.
For those interested in knowing more about his account of TIR's roots, here is the relevant sentence from his email, complete with the links. “I would encourage you to read the introduction to my book, Beyond Psychology, now in its fourth edition, Robert Moore's discussion of the background of TIR, and data on research that has been done on the subject, on the basis of which we have been listed as an evidence-based intervention by SAMHSA.”
The main point that emerges from the first link, is that Gerbode's TIR is not derived from Dianetics, but the two systems share the same roots: both are listed as one of a number of therapies derived from the early writings of Freud and Pavlov.
Some Scientologists in the independent movement still seem to be claiming TIR as an offshoot of Dianetics/Scientology however: see this exchange between Mike Rinder and Haydn (James?) at Marty Rathbun's site.
For more on Gerbode's influences, see his bio at the TIR Association website. Worth noting there is his sympathy for Dr. Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist who is a trenchant critic of conventional psychiatry. Szasz of course is also a cofounder, with Scientology, of the Citizens Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) devoted to exposing psychiatric abuse; and a radically libertarian philosopher whose views include the need to legalize all drugs, a strand of his thinking that does not quite square with Scientology's position on the question (see his "Our Right to Drugs: the Case for a Free Market").
I sent this item to Tony Ortega at The Underground Bunker, as he had been good enough to offer to run a trailer for this article. It ran yesterday (Monday) and some of his readers suggested that the symptoms were a better fit with migraine than with epilepsy.
Whether the person who wrote the success story was as mistaken about his condition as he was about the cure, or whether he just made the whole thing up, is a moot point. Posted on an official Scientology website, that is still a fraudulent claim for medical benefits.
9 Ballin wrote in his letter to the German documentary team: “I realized that Scientology ultimately runs contrary to the Creator and his laws. It was not the right way for me! After this realization, I severed all connections and declared my resignation.”
Ballin's differences with the movement appear to have been philosophical, then – even if there was no loss of faith in Scientology's medical claims.
10 Kristi Wachter's database of Scientology completions, The Truth About Scientology, based on the movement's own literature, has no listing for Ballin after 1990. It is clear however, that he was a big-spender, having spent time on the Freewinds cruise, where many of the most high-level and expensive courses are given. He had advanced at least as far as OT IV.