Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adverse Events

CCHR promotional leaflet, inviting members of ...CCHR anti-psychiatry pamphlet from Wikipedia
 The 30 Second Skinny The Church of Scientology considers itself at war with psychiatry. There was much speculation when Jett Travolta died that the Church had advised him to stop taking anti-seizure medication. The Church responded saying that they did not advise anyone not to take medicine for physical ailments. However, the Church runs a website via the front group CCHR which describes the particular medication Jett had stopped taking prior to his death as "poision".

When Jett Travolta died, a great deal of lip service was given to the suggestion that Scientologists were forbidden from taking anti-seizure medication. This was fueled in part from the personal experience of Tory Christman, who was repeatedly told that her anti-epilepsy medication was preventing her spiritual progress. Jett, it was suggested, had been taken off his medication at the suggestion of the Church, which had in turn led to the seizure that killed him. The truth is probably forever out of reach on that one, but the church didn't help matters when it refused to make its position explicitly clear. You'll recall that they stated their policy was to recommend following one's doctor's advice for physical ailments, but never stated whether it considered autism or epilepsy as a phsyical or psychological ailment. This is akin to Tommy Davis saying that the widely reported OT3 story sounds crazy, but never confirming or denying that it is genuine. The truth so often hangs on these points of detail.

I've followed for some time My Scientology Blog, which is a vital source if you're interested in how Scientology chooses to present itself to the world at large. I'm not sure whether its author, Grahame, is fulfilling some kind of OSA detail or whether he is simply a public Scientologist, but either way he tends to present the Church's standard line on most matters. He also responds to questions. I genuinely admire Scientologists, and for that matter people of any faith, that keep the channels open. If they're willing to discuss their ideas and beliefs then they are willing to test them, and are more likely to be in a position to test other people's beliefs. This can only be progressive. It is true, though, that Grahame does have the odd infuriating habit. He will avidly wave about the expansion figures that the Church of Scientology puts out, for instance, but will not question them, or even why they were released not to the world media, but in the magazine sold to existing Scientologists; not to convince the world at large that the church is not in trouble, but to convince the "base" of paying and obeying true believers.

But I digress.

Someone recently asked the following of Grahame:

I know Scientology opposes the drugging of society, but I am unclear as to precisely what extent it stands in opposition to drug consumption, i.e. absolute opposition vs. nuanced opposition.

What, if anything, does Scientology have to say, for example, about "moderate" caffeine and/or alcohol consumption? Are Scientologists discouraged from drinking beer and caffeinated soda?
This led to Grahame responding in detail about the difference between illegal drugs, medical drugs, and legal "every day" drugs such as nicotine and alcohol. This all seems fairly reasonable and sensible, despite him lumping in chiropractors and nutritionists with proper doctors, and later on admitting that he entertains the administration of discredited nineteenth century pseudoscience homeopathy. But he goes on to talk about drugs that are legal, but nevertheless "have been proven to be dangerous and to cause harm but are still on the market because the drug manufacturer makes billions from them". Familiar territory in these dark antivax days. To identify these he directs his readers to a Citizens' Campaign for Human Rights site. Avid readers will know that CCHR is a front group of Scientology, integral enough to the Church's grand mission to rid the world of psychiatry that they are mentioned in high management strategy documents.

The site consists of a searchable index of data culled from the FDA's Adverse Event Reporting System as it relates to various "psychiatric drugs" and lists adverse reactions relating to them. It's worth pointing out, and in fact the FDA do so, that these are medical events that have occured to people while taking medication. A reported adverse event does not demonstrate that the event was a reaction to the medication, and the reporting of them is to create sufficient anecdotal evidence to legitimise research into determining whether the drug was the actual cause. The CCHR, however, demonstrate no sense of caution, and are much more likely to leap to the conclusion that it was the meds what done it. As their site states:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a poison as "a substance that causes death or harm when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism." These psychiatric drugs fit that definition.
That makes the following, perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not, worrying and potentially illuminates the sad fate that befell Jett Travolta. As reported in the LA Times, Jett was taken off anti-seizure medication because it had ceased to work. This may be true - people who suffer from seizures do adapt to their medication and will often have to switch from time to time in order to stay one step ahead of their condition. That would sit more comfortably were it not for the fact that Jett's medication, Depakote, is featured on the CCHR site, along with a long list of adverse events. So is the Church of Scientology for it, or against it? Grahame?

 EDIT 26th September 2010 - Since this post was published, CCHR have removed the reference to Depakote from their Adverse Reactions site. We should, I suppose, be grateful that the Church no longer speaks out against the anti-seizure drug, but we ought not to forget what they were willing to say about the drug in the past. So here's a screengrab I took back in November 2009...


  1. (applause) Well stated and very insightful post Beacon Schuler. Too bad Grahame wont dare answer your conclusion question since there is a CCHR propaganda video floating around that shows them protesting outside a big pharma convention where depakote manufacturer is glimpsed in the footage prior to scenes showing Jett's mother marching in their brigade.

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