On November 18, 1995, 35-year-old Lisa McPherson was involved in a minor car accident. While paramedics initially left McPherson alone, due to her mobility and appearance of being unharmed, it became apparent to them that McPherson might need to visit a hospital when she began to remove her clothes at the scene.
McPherson arrived at a nearby hospital where she was examined by hospital staff. They determined that she was unharmed, but felt it necessary to keep her overnight for observation. Her behavior was off, indicating to staff that McPherson suffered from a mental disability.
When approached with the option for a psychiatric evaluation, McPherson vehemently refused, stating that she preferred to receive religious care and assistance from her fellow congregants, who were in attendance at the time.
Shortly after, McPherson checked herself out and was taken by fellow congregants for “rest and relaxation” at Flag Land Base, a property owned by the Church of Scientology.
McPherson had been a dedicated member of Scientology since she was 18-years-old, moving from Dallas, Texas to Clearwater, Florida, the unofficial “capital” of the Church, where she reportedly thrived in her religious quests.
Though as she got older, McPherson began to exhibit behavior synonymous with a mental disorder. For those who don’t know or aren’t aware, Scientology is not exactly savvy to the whole “psychiatry thing.”
McPherson had demonstrated to the Church that she may have had a mental disability or impairment that required special attention. The Church’s methods for dealing with mental impairments or psychotic episodes is to perform an “introspection rundown.” McPherson had apparently gone through an introspection once before and was given the state of Clear by the Church.
In 1995, McPherson had gone through another introspection at Flag Land Base and was put on 24-hour “isolation watch” by Church officials. About a week after being put on watch, McPherson’s mental and physical state began to slip.
“Care logs” narrated McPherson’s worsening condition. She would become violent to others and to herself, bruised her fists and feet while striking the wall and other inanimate objects, and made overt sexual advances to Church members, often grinding on them or licking their face. On multiple occasions, McPherson had refused food, spitting food back out after Church members attempted to force-feed her.
By December 4, McPherson had become so weak that she was unable to stand on her own. Anyone who questioned her state or the Church’s methods of care were told simply to “butt out.”
On December 5, 1995, Scientology medical doctor David Minkoff is contacted by Church staff unsure how to handle McPherson. Without examining her, Minkoff prescribed Valium and chloral hydrate. Despite requests for an antibiotic to be prescribed, Minkoff refused.
Later that day, McPherson began to gasp and had difficulty breathing. She was rushed to a Scientology hospital 45 minutes north of Clearwater, passing four other hospitals on the way, where she soon died.
Scientology medical professionals stated that her death was caused by meningitis or a blood clot, but it soon became clear to actual medical professionals that that was not the case.
The manner of death was “undetermined.” McPherson’s condition deteriorated slowly as she went without fluids for days at a time, was underweight, had cockroach bites, and was comatose from 24-48 hours before she died.
A criminal case was brought against the Church of Scientology for the wrongful death of Lisa McPherson. But as quickly as charges were brought, they were dismissed. Despite probable cause, the complicated facts by both Wood and the reports by Scientology officials had left prosecutors believing that there was insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
As a result of the McPherson incident, Scientology members are now required to “sign a general release form each time they register for a new service.” In the release it states that Scientology is a religion and is not required, nor intended, to treat medical issues. It also states that if a member is placed involuntarily into a psychiatric ward that the Church is allowed to intervene on their behalf and instead be released into the Church’s care.
It is not known if other Church members suffering from a mental affliction have been given proper treatment by the Church in necessary cases.