Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Death of Heribert Pfaff II

In a letter to German film-makers, Dr Klaus Ballin tried to explain his treatment of Heribert Pfaff. His patient had died from an epileptic fit after Ballin replaced his anti-convulsant medication with a Scientology-based treatment.

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?
One of those who died was Heribert Pfaff. Aged just 31, he had succumbed to an epileptic fit in 1988 after having been weaned off his anti-convulsant medication by his Scientology doctor, Klaus Ballin.

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.
A doctor writes...

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.

He continued:

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

Success stories

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:

I used to have epilepsy. Through Dianetics auditing, I discovered that the convulsions which traumatized my life for more than sixteen years stemmed from a series of electric shocks that my mother underwent when she was pregnant with me.

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.

Dianetics Auditing8

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:
  1. A Death in France” (Jocelyne Dorfmann's 1984 death at a Narconon Centre as she tried to come off her epilepsy medication)
  2. Hubbard on Epilepsy
  3. Tory 'Magoo' Christman's Story
  4. The Death of Heribert Pfaff I”
  5. The Death of Heribert Pfaff II”

1  See “Hubbard on Epilepsy” elsewhere on this site.
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").
8  From the What is Scientology website. Feel free to mirror it.
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.
11  Narconon International has posted Ballin's letter on its website. Feel free to mirror it.
12  See “A Death in France” elsewhere on this site.

Thursday 25 July 2013

The Death of Heribert Pfaff I

When Heribert Pfaff died in 1988 of an epileptic seizure in Clearwater Florida, he was using Scientology processing to try to wean himself off his medication.

"Victim face down"
Heribert Pfaff had suffered major epileptic seizures for 10 years after being injured in a serious car accident. In normal circumstances, the right medication would have helped him manage his condition.

But Pfaff was a Scientologist, and so was his doctor.

His family and friends say Heribert had been persuaded that Scientology could cure him of his fits – and that this involved coming off his medication.

They told him he would get the treatment he needed at Flag Land Base, in Clearwater, Florida, which Scientology promotes as its centre of excellence.

Even before he left Germany however, Pfaff's seizures were so bad that his wife Anita had asked family friend and fellow Scientologist Markus Stuckenbrock for help.

Stuckenbrock is no longer a part of the movement. Since losing his brother Uwe, who died of multiple sclerosis while in Scientology's Sea Org cadre, he has become an outspoken critic.

“Shortly before Heribert and his wife left their home in Friedrichshafen [Germany] I was asked to sleep in a room next to Heribert's room in order to help him if he had 'grand mal seizures' at night,” Stuckenbrock told Infinite Complacency.1

“I visited them four times if I remember right and Heribert had one severe seizure during this time,” he added.

This was 1988, he said: back then, he was a young man with little or no medical knowledge.

Since then however, he has acquired more than two decades' experience as a nurse caring for handicapped people, many of whom require medication to prevent seizures – the kind of medication Pfaff was persuaded to abandon.

“Compared with other people I had to care for in the last 22 years, I would say that Heribert had very severe seizures with a huge risk of severe injuries,” said Stuckenbrock.

A grand mal seizure is a frightening thing to behold, he added.

“For people who are not used to this it is like in a horror thriller where a demon is taking over the beloved person's body,” he said.

“I was there because his wife feared the seizures and because she was physically too weak to help him.”2

If Heribert had found a competent doctor, he would have put him on the right medication to stop the seizures, he said.

“In almost all the cases when people suffer from seizures, medication can help them to stop the seizures completely,” he said.

But Pfaff's doctor was a Scientologist.

“Anita and Heribert had the dream that the 'auditing' in Flag would help Heribert heal his seizure disorder,” Stuckenbrock recalled.

They believed the promises of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard that his system could heal almost any illness “...especially when the illness is caused by so-called 'engrams',” he added. “Engrams” is the word Hubbard used for the negative mental charges that Dianetics/Scientology is meant to eliminate.

Pfaff's handlers inside the movement knew about the car accident that had triggered his seizures, said Stuckenbrock. “So the Scientologists made him believe that the 'engram' which he had during the accident was causing his seizures.

“This I know for sure because Anita told me that it was their hope for their journey to Flag Land Base that the splendid auditing there could heal his illness.”3

Warning signs

But in Clearwater Pfaff's fits continued, as another witness has since testified.

One former member initially posted his account pseudonymously as “This is NOT OK” at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board: but he has agreed to let Infinite Complacency reveal his identity and has provided further details. He is Fred Oxaal, a Scientologist for 33 years before finally quitting the movement.4

At the time, wrote Oxaal, he was working as a Planetary Dissemination registrar: it was his job to approach public Scientologists taking courses at Flag to get more money out of them – for the library donations campaign to get Hubbard's books in libraries, for example.5

He was told by his superior to go and see Pfaff, who had arrived in Clearwater a few days earlier. They wanted to get him to donate $50,000 towards The Way to Happiness campaign.6

As soon as he started to talking to him however, Oxaal could tell something was wrong.

“I noticed he was moving his tongue around a lot in his mouth and I asked about it. He said that he’d had a 'small epileptic fit' the night before and had bit his tongue a bit.

“He stuck it out to show me and it was astonishing! The left 25% of his tongue (front to back) was just flattened – and I mean flattened.

“I asked if it hurt and should he not see a doctor. He said it was getting better.

“I asked if he had any medication to use to prevent another episode. As I remember it, he said, 'No, the C/S and I are working out a handling so I never have to take the medicine again.'”

The C/S is the Case Supervisor, the person responsible for deciding what kind of Scientology processing Pfaff should be getting.

“I thought this was strange...,” Oxaal recalled – but he did not pursue the matter.

Why strange?

Oxaal had seen the official literature insisting on a proper medical check from a doctor before doing the Purification Rundown, part of Scientology's treatment programme. He had seen the signs in Scientology centres “warning people that Scientology was not aimed at physical cures and if people needed medical treatment, they should see a doctor.”

But he also knew that all this had come about following the 1963 raids by the US Food and Drugs Administration, who had ordered Scientology not to make medical claims for their system. To some extent then, he understood that the signs were just public relations.

Nevertheless, he said, “by the time I met up with Heribert at Flag, I was completely clueless that the church had continued to practise medicine secretly, under the direction of Hubbard bulletins...

“I never thought auditors and case supervisors were practising medicine by taking people off of vital life-saving drugs – or at least if they were, it was under medical supervision, as the policy stated.”

He assumed then, that Pfaff was at least under medical care – and of course he was right.

“So when it came to Heribert and what he told me about having stopped his medicine, I assumed that he, the C/S and medicos were in sync.”

The next day, Oxaal went back to the hotel try to close the deal with Pfaff, who had agreed to talk again with him.

“There was a bit of commotion going on near the board, so I elbowed my way in to see what was going on.

“One of the hotel staff… told me that my guy was dead – died in bed in his room in the night – from (of all things) an epileptic seizure.”

Pfaff was 31 when he died on August 28, 1988 at Scientology's Flag Land Base in Clearwater.

Years later, looking back on his meeting with Pfaff, Oxaal reflected: “I had walked him to his room in the Ft. Harrison hotel the night before to ensure no other registrars got on to him on the way to the room.

“We said 'Good night' to each other at his door and I departed. I may have been the last person he ever spoke to.”

Oxaal's boss tore him off a strip for having failed to close the deal with Pfaff the previous night.

He also recalls how another member of the sales team reacted to the death.

“What an asshole,” she said. “That guy always was Dev-T” – a scientology term that essentially means he was a waste of time.

In its promotional literature, Scientology describes Flag as its centre of excellence for auditing and the “friendliest place in the whole world”.7

Sketch from Clearwater Police files
The police investigation

On the morning of August 28, 1988, Patrol Officer John Zegzdryn was called out to the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, to investigate the death.8

Anita Pfaff told Officer Zegzdryn that she had found her husband dead in his room just a few hours earlier.

They did not sleep in the same room, she explained, because her husband was an epileptic and often had seizures at night.

In the hotel room, the patrol officer found Pfaff's naked body, lying face-down half off the bed.

"Victim face down," was noted on a police sketch of the scene.

As Detective Mark Teunis, later assigned to the case, noted, Zegzdryn "stated that he was somewhat suspicious of the incident because of the victim's age and some bruises found on the back side of the victim..." so he called it in for further investigation. Pfaff was only 31 at the time of his death.9

Pfaff's doctor, Klaus Ballin, had been with Anita Pfaff when she found her husband's body. She had called him when she could not get the door to her husband's room open (the bathroom door was blocking it) and he had called a security guard.

Questioned by detectives, Ballin described himself as not just the dead man's doctor but a personal friend. They were in Clearwater, he explained, to attend a series of Scientology conferences.

Back home in Germany, he said, he had been treating Pfaff for his epilepsy.

One of the detectives noted in his report:

Dr Ballin advised he had been prescribing Phenhydan for the deceased until February of this year.10

But because his seizures were so violent and had lasted so long, the deceased requested different treatment.

Therefore Dr Ballin was gradually taking the deceased off of the Phenhydan and putting him on a vitamin-mineral complex that would lessen the severity and duration of the seizures.

“Dr. Ballin is an M.D.,” he added, just to avoid any ambiguity – a medical doctor.

Ballin added that although he had been treating Pfaff for his epilepsy, he had not seen him in a professional capacity for the last eight weeks. The detective noted:

Ballin stated that he has prescribed a medicine for the epileptic seizures but he does not know the name of the medication.

He stated that it is an anti-epileptic medicine in a tablet form. He stated that the victim is also on a vitamin and mineral diet.

Ballin also confirmed that Heribert's wife had been unable to sleep in the same room as her husband, both here and back home in Germany, because of his night-time seizures.

Ballin's view, the detective noted, was that Pfaff had had an epileptic seizure, “...falling to the floor which cut off his breathing.”

The detectives did not find anything suspicious at the scene and once the medical examiner's report put the cause of death down to an epileptic seizure, the case was closed.

Following up

Pfaff's death got little or no coverage until a German documentary crew picked up the trail nearly a decade later.

In 1996, former Scientologist Martin Ottmann took his concerns about the movement to film-makers Mona Botros and Egmont R. Koch.11

And once Ottmann tipped them off to what was then a breaking story, they also looked into the 1995 Clearwater death of Lisa McPherson. She too had died in the care of Scientologists.12

A few days in Clearwater digging through police and medical examiner's reports and they realized there was even more to the story. They had uncovered a whole series of unexplained Scientology-related deaths – some dating as far back as 1980 – that had gone largely unreported.

They turned up seven cases in all – one of which was that of Heribert Pfaff.

The documentary by Botros and Koch, Die dunkle Seite von Scientology (The Dark Side of Scientology), was broadcast in April 1997 – despite the best efforts of the movement to stop it.13

“After the film aired, it was translated pretty much overnight into English by a Scientology critic in the Netherlands and was published on dozens of websites shortly afterwards,” Botros recalls.

Before long, the St Petersburg Times, which covers Clearwater and was also investigating the McPherson story, contacted Botros and Koch to compare notes.

Over the following months the Times ran a series of articles following up on the German team's revelations, including a December 1997 piece by Lucy Morgan.14

In the case of Pfaff, Morgan noted, the medical examiner's report for Pfaff had determined that a seizure had probably caused his death – and that no anti-convulsant drugs had been found in his bloodstream.

The Times also spoke to Heribert's brother Georg, who said that the Scientologists in Germany had promised a cure for the seizures and had taken Pfaff off the medication that controlled them.15 That of course matches the account from Stuckenbrock, which emerged later.

Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw told the Times the movement had not recommended Pfaff's course of treatment.

“If someone had epilepsy, they should see a medical doctor,” he added. “It was his choice to receive drugs or not.”16

But Botros and Koch had interviewed Pfaff's mother for their documentary and she told them her son had been put on an alternative Scientology treatment for his epilepsy.17

They also contacted Pfaff's doctor, Klaus Ballin, who while he declined to be interviewed did provide them with a written statement.

He had treated Pfaff with vitamins and Scientology processing, he told them, which at the time he thought was an effective alternative treatment. He denied any responsibility for Pfaff's death.

The film-makers consulted Professor Günther Schwendemann, head of the neurology ward at Bremen-Ost Hospital. They showed him the details of the vitamins treatment Pfaff had been prescribed.

He dismissed it as worthless.

“It is contrary to the practice of the therapy to withold medication from a patient who has attacks every night, instead of looking what medication is the most effective for him,” the professor told them...

“I can tell you with the utmost probability, that with adequate treatment the patient would still be alive today,” he added.

Professor Schwendemann probably says all that needs to be said in this case.

But Botros and Koch were good enough to provide Infinite Complacency with a copy of Ballin's letter and it makes for interesting reading – especially when you compare it with what he told the Clearwater police.
Articles in the Ignoring Epilepsy series:
  1. A Death in France” (Jocelyne Dorfmann's 1984 death at a Narconon Centre as she tried to come off her epilepsy medication)
  2. Hubbard on Epilepsy
  3. Tory 'Magoo' Christman's Story
  4. “The Death of Heribert Pfaff I
1 I asked Markus Stuckenbrock to elaborate on his post at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board on the death of Heribert Pfaff.
Markus's own family was torn apart by Scientology: he lost his brother, Uwe Stuckenbrock, to Scientology's elite cadre, the Sea Org, and the movement's dogmatic approach to illness meant that he died there.
In 1996, Uwe was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, writes his brother. “Because his condition was considered 'out-ethics', meaning that the person himself was at cause for [responsible for] the illness, the required 'remedy' would be auditing...,” he wrote in his summary of the story at the at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board.
Since Uwe was in the Sea Org, it was that much more difficult for him to make a free choice about the treatment he wanted. Indeed, writes brother Markus, despite his condition, Uwe Stuckenbrock was sent to the RPF, Scientology's labour camp, for having wanted to leave the Sea Org. “He spent the rest of his life in the RPF.”
Scientology lied to the non-Scientology members of his family about Uwe's condition and when they did find out, the movement obstructed their efforts to get him effective treatment, writes Markus. His brother died in October 6, 2008, aged just 45.
2 Personal communication with Markus Stuckenbrock.
For anyone who has never witnessed a grand mal seizure, it is worth pausing to describe it in detail to get an idea of just how dramatic – and frightening – they are. (See also Tory “Magoo” Christman's account elsewhere at this site).
Markus offered this definition from an online medical dictionary and given his nursing background, he can testify as to its accuracy:
GENERALIZED SEIZURES. A generalized tonic-clonic (grand-mal) seizure begins with a loud cry before the person having the seizure loses consciousness and falls to the ground. The muscles become rigid for about 30 seconds during the tonic phase of the seizure and alternately contract and relax during the clonic phase, which lasts 30-60 seconds. The skin sometimes acquires a bluish tint and the person may bite his tongue, lose bowel or bladder control, or have trouble breathing.
A grand mal seizure lasts between two and five minutes, and the person may be confused or have trouble talking when he regains consciousness (postictal state). He may complain of head or muscle aches, or weakness in his arms or legs before falling into a deep sleep.
This is what Hubbard said he could fix with Scientology processing.
My thanks to Markus for giving us the benefit of his professional knowledge in this area.
3 Stuckenbrock's account fits perfectly with what we have reported about Hubbard's writings in this area: that epilepsy is a condition caused by “engrams”. See “Hubbard on Epilepsy” earlier in this series.
4 Fred Oxaal spent 33 years in Scientology, during which time he spent more money than he cares to mention before finally quitting the movement at OT VII. As the founder and a former executive director of The Way to Happiness Foundation International he has some interesting tales to tell about Scientology's sales tactics: but that's a story for another day. My thanks to Fred for having confirmed the details of his account to me, for having provided some additional details – and for having agreed to be identified in this article.
5 Fred Oxaal originally posted this on August 30, 2010 under the pseudonym“This is NOT OK !!!!” at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board; and reposted on this thread devoted to Scientology's disastrous handling of epilepsy on January 29, 2011. He has provided a few extra details in our recent correspondence.
6 For more on The Way to Happiness campaign, see “Mexico's Cri Cri Hijacked” elsewhere on this site.
7 “Friendliest place in the world”: see for example this Scientology web page promoting Flag, their centre in Clearwater, Florida.
8 This initial account is drawn from police reports filed at the time, released by the Clearwater Police Department.
9 This passage is from an August 28, 2008 report by Detective Mark Teunis, from the Clearwater Police files.
10 The active ingredient in the anti-epileptic drug Phenhydan is phenytoin.
11 Ottmann is a veteran of Scientology's Sea Organization, an elite cadre for its most dedicated members, who also suffer most the the worst abuse meted out by the movement. His work researching and documenting Scientology's abuses has been quite extraordinary. His Citizen's Complaint against the movement, sent to the US federal authorities and duly ignored, repays careful reading. Ottmann periodically posts examples of the documents he has gathered over the years at the Why We Protest message board.
12 For more on Lisa McPherson, see Jeff Jacobsen's excellent site.
13 Die dunkle Seite von Scientology (The Dark Side of Scientology), was produced by ARD and broadcast on April 2, 1997. “After the film aired, it was translated pretty much overnight into English by a Scientology critic in the Netherlands and was published on dozens of websites shortly afterwards,” Botros recalls.
See here for an English transcript and here for a dubbed version of the documentary.
My thanks to both Egmont R. Koch and Mona Botros for sharing their findings with me – and in particular to Mona Botros for her close reading of – and invaluable notes on – an earlier draft of this piece.
14 For Some Scientologists, Pilgrimage Has Been Fatal”, by Lucy Morgan, St. Petersburg Times, December 7, 1997. The Times, now known as the Tampa Bay Times, is based in Florida and has been covering Scientology ever since it moved into Clearwater in 1975.
15 Heribert's brother Georg specifically told the Times that the Scientology treatment involved taking Heribert off his medication.
16 Op cit., St Petersburg Times. Shaw's full title was given in the article as director of the Clearwater Office of Special Affairs (OSA).
17 For details of what Pfaff's mother told Botros and Koch, see this extract, dubbed into English.