Sunday 10 January 2010

9 Peta O'Brien's Letter: Medical Neglect

Medical neglect in Scientology was so serious that staff members with cancer were left to die untreated at their post, according to one letter to Senator Xenophon.

Some staff members with cancer worked untreated until they died while others too weak to do anything received no palliative care, a former Scientologist wrote in her letter to Senator Xenophon.

Peta O’Brien's allegations echo earlier accounts from other defectors from the movement's Sea Organization cadre.

Similar concerns were also expressed in an official Australian report published as far back as 1965.

Scientologists are taught to consider Sea Org members as an elite; the movement’s most dedicated members.

But despite what her recruiters had promised her, O’Brien soon learned that the movement would not pay for urgent medical care for her and her colleagues.

She gave several examples of how this worked in practice.

Two involved people refused the money for urgent dental work (her own son and a senior Scientology executive).[1]

But the third incident, drawn from her own experience, was far more serious.

She got the results of a smear test back that showed abnormal cells lining her cervix. This showed that she was at the C.I.N. 3 stage, the worst on a scale of three: while she did not necessarily have cancer, she nevertheless needed further treatment as soon as possible.

O’Brien knew she had two options. One was to have an immediate biopsy, with follow-ups every six months; the other was to have a hysterectomy, an operation in which her womb would be removed, which of course meant she would be unable to have any more children.

“I knew the CofS [Church of Scientology] methods of encouraging abortions so the thought of having any more children was unlikely,” she wrote.[2]

“I thought I had no choice, being a staff member of the CofS … to settle for the…hysterectomy.”

It was not just Scientology’s policy on having children that affected her decision; she made it clear that their failure to finance basic medical had also played a role.

“I also knew I would never be able to afford an operation every six months and certainly would not be assisted by the CofS financially or medically,” she wrote.

But she could not even afford the 5,000 dollars for the hysterectomy.

Two of her superiors made it clear they would not finance the intervention – they even advised her against having it, she wrote: “…they both disapproved of having any sort of having any sort of operation or surgery at all, to handle the cancer.”

She eventually came to an arrangement with the doctor by which she repaid the cost of the operation by doing an architectural rendering of his home (O’Brien is a trained architectural designer).

According to O’Brien, this was not the only time Scientology’s management ignored a serious, or potentially serious medical situation.

“There were three other CofS staff members diagnosed with Cancer when I was there… One continued to work at his desk until he died. There was no support or palliative care at the CofS, although there was a medical officer… not medically trained.

O’Brien said her final two years inside the Sea Org were spent on its Rehabilitation Project Force (RFP) a punishment programme for those members deemed to have failed to live up to the movement’s ethical standards.

The level of medical neglect there was if anything even worse, she wrote.

“On the RPF I was concerned about a bedridden elderly staff member who had cancer, who had seeping open chest wounds that needed to be cleaned and bandages change daily.

“Somehow I made time to do this for her, and even put up some curtains and cleaned her room.”

O’Brien was put on an even tougher programme as punishment for having put up curtains in the women’s dormitory: this was considered “idle” behaviour. She heard later that her bedridden colleague had died.

The Anderson Report

More than 30 years before O’Brien wrote her letter to Senator Xenophon, a senior Australian lawyer warned about the dangers of Scientology’s contempt for conventional medicine.

Kevin Anderson, a Queen’s Counsel (QC), submitted a scathing critique of Scientology to the State of Victoria in Australia in 1965.

One of the great dangers of scientology is that it poisons the minds of its followers against the medical profession and generates an abhorrence of medical treatment generally, and psychiatric and psychological treatment in particular, he wrote.

For while Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s attacks on psychiatry and psychology were particularly virulent, he also found time to disparage the medical profession

Anderson quoted a number of such attacks in his report including one on the British Medical Association in which Hubbard wrote:

“With their hands caked with blood they sought to point a grisly finger at us and to bring down upon us the wrath of the government they claimed they controlled. Folly, thy name is medicine… I have found that the British Medical Association in England… has encouraged its doctors to spread vicious lies about us via their patients.”[3]

Anderson devoted another chapter of his report to the extravagant medical claims Hubbard made for his system – again quoting extensively from his writings.

In various places Hubbard has written to the effect that arthritis, eye conditions, heart conditions, cancer, all psychosomatic illnesses, morning sickness, ulcers, tuberculosis, the common cold, the common cough, illness from bacterial or virus infections, alcoholism and a multitude of other complaints and conditions… respond to processing, the lawyer noted.

For example, he noted, Hubbard had written in one issue of a Scientology magazine: “Leukaemia is evidently psychosomatic in origin and at least eight cases of leukaemia had been treated successfully by dianetics after medicine had traditionally given up.”[4]

Anderson also made it clear that many of the Scientologists who had testified to his inquiry believed that their system could cure a range of physical and mental ills, including polio, hepatitis, malaria – and cancer.

And he described the case of “one unfortunate man” who during a five-month period between 1959 and 1960 had been audited by the Melbourne Scientology centre.

The client was dying of cancer at the time.

At a time when it was known… that he had been under medical treatment and was suffering from a malignant growth in his lower abdomen, the [centre] quoted him 200 hours' auditing for a stable case gain, wrote Anderson.

His auditing had only stopped a few weeks before he died, he noted.

This case is typical of the callous disregard which the scientologist practitioners are trained to have for their preclears [clients]. It is a sign of weakness in an auditor to feel pity for a victim, and the auditing processes in this case, as in very many others, were applied quite brutally...

The auditing notes had shown that this man had frequently been in pain during the sessions, noted Anderson. He had also experienced  “hallucinations about murder, rape and other acts of violence, as well as recalls of death and hanging in past lives,” he wrote.

Incidents such as this one help explain why Anderson wrote such a damning report on Scientology. The opening passage of his conclusions should suffice.

If there should be detected in this Report a note of unrelieved denunciation of scientology, it is because the evidence has shown its theories to be fantastic and impossible, its principles perverted and ill-founded, and its techniques debased and harmful.

Scientology is a delusional belief system, based on fiction and fallacies and propagated by falsehood and deception.

While making an appeal to the public as a worthy system whereby ability, intelligence and personality may be improved, it employs techniques which further its real purpose of securing domination over and mental enslavement of its adherents.

It involves the administration by persons without any training in medicine or psychology of quasi-psychological treatment, which is harmful medically, morally and socially.

“Cancer has been eradicated…”

Nearly 30 years after the Anderson Report Hana Eltringham Whitfield told a similar story, albeit from a different perspective.

Whitfield was one of the original members of the Sea Org in the 1960s, serving under the founder L. Ron Hubbard himself,

In a lengthy affidavit dated March 8, 1994, she declared: I have known many Scientologists and Sea Org members who died from cancer.

The common denominator among them is that they did not seek medical assistance rapidly, when they first noticed something wrong.

The overwhelming belief among Scientologists and Sea Org members was to get audited or continue on with auditing (if they were already receiving auditing) with the conviction that auditing would resolve the cancer. [5]

Whitfield went on to quote the 1975 edition of Hubbard’s History of Man, in which he wrote on page 20: “Cancer has been eradicated by auditing out conception and mitosis.”[6]

This, and similar claims for other illness in Hubbard's DMSMH [Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health], may have helped to bring about the disregard for the medical doctor, she added.

One death Whitfield described in distressing detail was that of a friend, Yvonne Gillham Jentzsch.[7]

Whitfield first realised that her friend was ill when the long letters she usually wrote became shorter and shorter.

She said she was tired, losing weight and getting headaches, all unusual for her, wrote Whitfield. I didn't think much about the last; I also had constant headaches.

In late 1977, Yvonne suddenly arrived in Clearwater, very ill. She talked with difficulty, lost track of what she said half way through a sentence and lost her balance while walking.

Jentzsch told her she was dying from a brain tumour.

She said she hadn't seen a doctor because she thought auditing would fix it, wrote Whitfield.

But when she finally did see one, it was too late. If she had sought help earlier, the doctor told her, the tumour would have been removable.

We both cried, wrote Whitfield. I knew auditing did not resolve everything, but I was shocked that her life was wasted through such neglect.

Far from criticising Scientology however, Jentzsch seemed to think it was her fault, wrote Whitfield. One day she cried and blamed herself for the terrible overt [sin] of dying and deserting Hubbard.

And although she was in constant pain, she refused to take medication to relieve it: that would have disqualified her from receiving Scientology auditing.

Jentzsch’s condition deteriorated in the months that followed, wrote Whitfield. She never received medical treatment of any kind that I know of. She died in early 1978.

We had a short briefing in which we were told that Yvonne had dropped her body happily and was in good case shape to pick up the next one, and that as this was a happy occasion, there was to be no time wasted in unnecessary grieving…

Hubbard, in a published memo after her death, applauded Yvonne's achievements and granted her a leave of absence for twenty one years until she rejoined the Sea Organization in her next reincarnation.[8]

Carol’s story

It is bad enough when Scientologists on staff fail to seek treatment for life-threatening illnesses because of a misguided faith in the healing powers of Scientology.

It is inexcusable that Scientology employees die of preventable diseases because the movement does not provide for even basic tests.

Whitfield told the story of Carol, another Sea Org member who died of cancer.

She developed breast cancer after joining the Sea Org. She told me that she did not report it because she believed that auditing would cure it, wrote Whitfield. She also did not want to bother anyone.

Carol never received medical treatment for the cancer. She never got regular PAP smears and mammograms.

When the cancer entered its terminal phase and she was hospitalised, an executive decided that she had to be sent home to die there rather than at Scientology’s base in Clearwater, “as it would be bad PR for Scientology and the Sea Org,” wrote Whitfield.

Carol looked terrible when I saw her. She had lost fifty pounds, was very weak and her mind was wandering. She pleaded to stay in Clearwater because she did not want to go back to her family.

Her request was denied.

Whitfield was assigned to get her home to her family in England, but the nurses in Clearwater said she was far too sick to travel: the cancer had spread to all her vital organs.

So Whitfield’s superior told her to concoct a “shore story” – an “acceptable truth” as Hubbard once put it.

When they said that Carol’s parents were desperate for her to come home before she died, the nurses gave them their full cooperation.

Her parents were very happy to see Carol though shocked at her condition, wrote Whitfield.

The family doctor was so disgusted after I gave him the medical reports the next day, and that Carol travelled while critically ill, that he refused to talk to me thereafter… I was deeply disturbed by the experience.

On her return to Clearwater however, Whitfield was commended for having handled “a potentially dangerous and sensitive situation.”[9]

“Left to die on her own…”

Just as O'Brien wrote 15 years later, Whitfield reported that in many cases there was no palliative care for people who fell seriously ill.

Sally Esterman (formerly Chaleff) was another Sea Org member who died of cancer in January 1987, wrote Whitfield. She developed cervical cancer, which in 99 percent of cases is curable if caught early.

Sally never received regular PAP smears or mammograms, and by the time she reported her condition, the cancer was terminal.

But it gets worse.

Esterman was put in a convalescent home in Los Angeles. She stayed there for more than a year, “bedridden, to weak to do anything,” wrote Whitfield.

The room she was in and her sheets, towels and night clothes, were filthy. She didn't have the strength to clean them.

Sally had no visitors, not even her Scientology husband, Mitch, who worked nearby. He was mad at her, said she was lazy, that she allowed herself to get ill so as to shirk work.

Sally was left to die on her own. She was in terrible pain continually, with nothing to alleviate it. Dr. Gene Denk… told Sally one day that she was too far gone, and all that was left for her to do was die and that she better not mess that up.

As Whitfield points out, Denk had also been Hubbard’s personal doctor – and he had made sure the founder never lacked for medication.

A friend of Esterman, a former Scientologist, did what she could to care for her in the final months.

But Whitfield concluded: Sally suffered her last days on her own, abandoned by Scientology.

Whitfield’s affidavit repays careful reading. It tells several similarly shocking stories, making it clear that these were not isolated incidents.

Anderson, in his report, noted the “callous disregard” shown by the Melbourne Scientologists towards their client as he was dying of cancer.

The apparent indifference, even hostility of some Scientologists to the sick among them, might in part explained by the uncomfortable fact that they embody the emptiness of the movement's medical claims.

But there is also a belief inside Scientology that if you fall ill, if anything bad happens to you, then you have “pulled it in” – it is somehow your fault.

In Scientology, a Potential Trouble Source (PTS) is a serious condition that means that you are connected to a Suppressive Person, an enemy of Scientology and of humanity. And Hubbard was quite clear: “All sick persons are PTS.”[10]

Bear in mind too, that on Hubbard’s Tone Scale of emotions, Sympathy rates very low.

The Tone Scale – in which Hubbard set out the least and the most desirable emotional states – runs from Total Failure at -40, to Serenity of Beingness no less, at 40.

Sympathy clocks in at a lowly 0.9.[11]
[1] Her son needed dental work, but after repeatedly having her request for the treatment refused, she was finally told that she was wasting her time: despite what her recruiters had told her, now her superiors said there was no money available. In the end, her family paid for her son’s dental work.
On another occasion, a senior executive (name deleted from the letter filed to the Senate) also found applied to have his dental work covered, wrote O’Brien. “…after weeks of his request being ignored, his condition became worse and more painful, and I believe he had an emergency operation to have his tooth removed at his own cost.”
[2] As I have covered in previous entries, having babies in the Sea Org is banned. Any staff member who does become pregnant comes under tremendous pressure to abort the foetus. See the testimony of Aaron Saxton, Carmel Underwood, in their letters to Senator Xenophon as well as the California lawsuits filed by Claire Headley and Laura Decrecenzo.
[3] Anderson sources this to a Hubbard’s Communications Office Bulletin dated July 24, 1960. He quotes it in Chapter 22 of his report: “Hostility to the Medical Profession”.
[4] The reference is Issue 15-G of The Journal of Scientology, May 1953. He quotes it in Chapter 19 of the report: “The Healing Claims of Scientology”.
[5] Paragraph 222 in the affadavit.
[6] She also noted that the contentious passage in History of Man had been rewritten in subsequent editions to read “Cancer has reportedly been eradicated by auditing out conception and mitosis.” Anderson quotes the same passage in Chapter 19 of his report: “The Healing Claims of Scientology”.
[7] Whitfield tells how they originally got to know each other in 1967 when they served together alongside Hubbard in the Sea Org. Yvonne Gillham Jentzsch was the wife of Heber Jentzsch who for years was Scientology’s most prominent spokesman, occupying the post of President of Church of Scientology International. According to the testimony of several former executives, he did not have any real executive power in the movement.
[8] You can find Whitfield's account of Jentzsch’s death in paras 227-232 of her affidavit.
One of the darker ironies is that in the 1960s, Jentzsch testified to the Anderson Inquiry in Australia as to the medical benefits of Scientology. She thought that “illnesses such as colds, 'flu and heart trouble and some mental disorders could be cured by scientology, and that it was possible to proof against the strain of physical and mental illness.” (Chapter 19, “The Healing Claims of Scientology”). At the time she was known as Yvonne Doreen Gillham (she was married to Peter Francis Gillham)
[9] You can find Whitfield's account of Carol’s death in paras 233-238 of her affidavit.
[10] Hubbard Communications Office Bulletin, April 20, 1972; this also features on p326 of the Dianetics and Scientology Technical Dictionary. My thanks to “Hubbard’s Mushroom” for putting me on the right track.
[11] Curiously, No Sympathy rates a little higher on the Tone Scale, at 1.2.


  1. All the Young Dudes12 January 2010 at 05:59

    Thanks for you journalistic works. They are much appreciated!

  2. The Anderson Report had it so right, it's still a top reference work when it comes to independent assessment of Scientology.

    The Age (Jun 3, 1964): "'Utter ignorance' of physics in Scientology writings / Doctor tells inquiry":

    "A doctor told the scientology inquiry yesterday that writings by scientology leader L. R. Hubbard showed 'complete and utter ignorance of physics, medical science, and medicine."