Thursday 14 March 2013

The Rundown: a close call

A former Scientologist who pioneered the Purification Rundown in France told a Senate committee there how one of his clients almost died during the procedure.

Ex-member Roger Gonnet
By his own account, Roger Gonnet was once one of Scientology's most dedicated followers in France before becoming its most effective critic there.

He became an active member in 1975, setting up the Lyon branch of its operations and running it until he was declared a Suppressive Person eight years later.1

It was he who helped get the Purification Rundown started in France, translating the relevant documents so he could run the programme at his centre.

The Rundown combines aerobic exercise, long sessions in the sauna and massive doses of vitamins and minerals.

It is a core part of the supposedly secular treatment offered at Scientology's Narconon rehabilitation centres for drug addicts.

But it is also among the services offered to Scientologists, in which context the movement describes it – in court at least – as a purely non-medical, spiritual process.2

But the procedure is highly dangerous, Gonnet told a French Senate committee investigating the influence of cult-like movements on the health sector.

“I nearly had deaths,” he told the senators in testimony earlier this month.

In one case in particular, he added, if he had followed the procedure set down by Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard, he would have killed someone.

“Cécile G.” suffered a spectacular allergic reaction while doing the Rundown at the Lyon centre.3

Cécile had already had one purification cure, Gonnet recalled. But after having minor surgery, she decided to come back for more to get rid of the toxins she thought she had accumulated during the operation.

“The very first time I checked in on her I noticed the presence of strange bubbles [on her skin], which resembled blisters,” he said.

“We discussed it, but I let her go on and I kept an eye on how things developed. When I came back, the bubbles had spread significantly.”

Now he was worried.

He took her to a doctor who was familiar with – and sympathetic to – the Rundown: he had himself done a Scientology course, but was more interested in homeopathy.

The doctor examined her and wrote out a prescription for a homeopathic treatment. They went straight to a pharmacy so she could get started on it immediately.

But she was in such bad shape there was no question of her going back into the sauna, said Gonnet. 

By 10 or 11 that night, the “bubbles” had spread even further. So they phoned the doctor back.

He told Gonnet to get her to hospital.

When Cécile checked in the following morning, the doctors took one look at her and asked to take photographs, her symptoms were so spectacular.

“She was in a really bad state and the allergic reaction was really enormous, because they photographed from head to toe when she arrived at the hospital,” Gonnet recalled.

Cécile was in pain all over her body and she had slept very badly. The bubbles had spread all over her body and were sometimes three centimetres in diameter.

The doctors identified her condition as an acute form of pemphigus, a rare auto-immune disease that causes blistering of the skin and the mucous membranes and which in extreme cases can be fatal.

But she got the proper treatment and made a full recovery, surviving the complication of a pulmonary embolism (a potentially lethal blocking of one of the arteries leading to the lung).4

I think she would have died...”

Gonnet argued that by taking her to a doctor and then checking her into hospital, he had failed to respect the protocol set down by Hubbard.

Whether it's auditing – their version of therapy – or the Purification Rundown, the general principle in Scientology is “The way through is the way out”, said Gonnet.

Hubbard had once written: “What turns it on will turn it off,” Gonnet explained to the senators.5

“Hubbard explains that during the Purif, skin cancers can appear and disappear, rashes or any number of other things, but that one should not pay any heed to them, on the principle that what brought them to the surface will also make them disappear,” he said.

But the reason Cécile reacted so badly was because of a violent allergic reaction to sulfonamides, a kind of antibiotic, which she had been given a few days earlier when she had gone in for surgery.6

If he had not disregarded the protocol set down by Hubbard by taking her off the Rundown, the consequences could have been disastrous, Gonnet told the senators.

“I think she would have died in the days that followed,” he said.

As it was, he added, he learned years later that Cécile's continued devotion to Scientology had eventually proved her undoing.

Having survived her brush with the Rundown, she had continued all the way up the Bridge to Total Freedom to OT VIII – the highest level in Scientology.

But then she was diagnosed with her cancer.

Gonnet had already explained to the senators Hubbard's inflated claims for Scientology – including the possibility of curing cancer – and the movement's disdain for much conventional medicine.7

Instead of going to get proper medical treatment for her illness, he said, Cécile had travelleled to Scientology's Flag Land Base in Florida, the United States, for treatment.

Florida is Scientology's centre of excellence for auditing, their version of therapy.

She did not survive her cancer.8
1 Gonnet says he quit over the new management's increasingly authoritarian management style. This was around the time that David Miscavige took over the movement.
2 For more on this paradox, see first post in this section “Narconon: an Introduction” – in particular the “Having it both ways” sub-section and the accompanying links.
3 This account is partly from Roger Gonnet's March 5 testimony to the French Senate's committee investigating the influence of cult-like movements in the health sector; partly from his book, La Secte: chronique d'une “religion” commerciale à irresponsabilité illimitée (Alban, Paris 1998) p118-119 of my version (also available online: search for “Le purif et les morts”); and partly from information he supplied me in response to my questions. The committee is due to deliver its report on April 10.
4 It was the hospital that diagnosed the illness, though Gonnet thinks the doctor had probably reached the same conclusion. It was obvious just to look at her, he added: by the time she was admitted to hospital, the “bubbles” or blisters had spread all over her body: they were 3-4 cm long and several millimetres thick.
5 The relevant Hubbard Communications Policy Letter (HCOPL) is “Processing”, from May 27, 1965. In it, he sets out three golden rules in auditing – Scientology's version of therapy:
  1. Get the person being audited through to the end of the process;
  2. “What turns it on will turn it off”;
  3. “The way out is the way through”.
In the context of auditing, this has involved physically preventing clients leaving the auditing room until the auditor is satisfied that the session is over. But what Gonnet is saying is that this same principle was used in the context of the Purification Rundown – which created the potential for disastrous consequences.
In his book, Gonnet also wrote that he had heard of one client who following the Rundown's programme of exercise, sauna sessions and massive doses of niacins, vitamins and minerals for six months; of another who experienced serious circulatory problems. And he knew of a case of purpura that required months of medical care. Purpura is when the skin becomes discoloured because the blood vessels have burst. (p118, op cit).
6 Cécile had her second Purification Rundown just two days after her operation, which had involved taking sulfonamides. It was only once she was in hospital that she recalled she had had a reaction to sulfonamides when she was four years old. (Presumably the medical staff asked the right questions.)
7 As far back as 1965 senior lawyer Kevin Anderson QC had noted Hubbard's claims to be able to cure cancer in a devastating report commissioned by the State of Victoria, Australia.
Anderson observed: “In A History of Man, Hubbard wrote: 'Cancer has been eradicated by auditing out conception and mitosis', …In 'Scientology: issue 15-G,' Hubbard writes, '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. The source of leukaemia has been reported to be an engram containing the phrase 'it turns my blood to water'.' (page 121)
In the conclusions to the report, Anderson added that Scientology was harmful “...medically, morally and socially”. (p161)
Even for those emerging from the movement the risk persisted, he wrote. “...Hubbard's ideas may be so entrenched in their minds that they will still feel compelled to shun the proper medical and other treatment which they may well require.” (p161)
Summing up, he wrote: Scientology is practised by 'auditors' who have no medical training; they use dangerous techniques; they are unable to recognize symptoms and diagnose particular mental and physical conditions of ill health; they indiscriminately apply dangerous techniques irrespective of the circumstances; they not only administer the wrong treatment, but also poison their patients' minds against orthodox medicine and thus prevent them from obtaining proper medical treatment which they may require. (p164).
8 For more examples of Scientologists' conviction that auditing could treat cancer, see “Peta O'Brien's Letter: Medical Neglect”, elsewhere on this site.