August 16, 2007

Family Tragedy Focuses Attention on Church of Scientology's controversial stance against psychiatric care

The publication "Australian Doctor" reported this month that a recent family tragedy has focused attention on the Church of Scientology's controversial stance against psychiatric care and treatments for mental illness.

A medical report filed in court alleged the woman was mentally ill, but stopped taking prescription medication and receiving treatment, apparently because of her family's Scientology beliefs. The court also heard that she resumed taking the medication prior to the attacks.

What ultimately led to the tragedy is for the courts to decide. But the case has renewed debate about Scientology's objection to psychiatric care.

Professor Ian Hickie, executive director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, is concerned that Scientology may influence vulnerable individuals and says the negative health implications of this have never been adequately addressed.

"That, from a medical point of view, needs to be confronted," he says.

"Individuals, particularly vulnerable individuals, may be misled and avoid treatment."

It's a concern that is not new. The religion was banned for some years in Victoria, Australia after a 1965 State Government-commissioned inquiry that said Scientologists were conditioned to avoid psychiatrists and this "may have tragic results".

Today, the Church of Scientology says there are constant "horror stories" of people who are adversely affected by psychiatric medication "who repeatedly report their inability to get anybody to listen or take notice".

Professor David Copolov, professor of psychiatry at Monash University in Melbourne, rejects Scientology's view that psychiatric drugs are dangerous and ineffective.

"For Scientology to say there are no data to support [psychiatric medication's] usefulness is clearly incorrect," says Professor Copolov, who was the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee's psychiatric expert from 1992 to 2000.

"All medications have side effects, but the balance between efficacy and side effects [with psychiatric medications] is hugely in favor of efficacy.

"We have to counter this anti-psychiatric rhetoric. To the extent that it discourages seriously ill people from seeking and receiving treatment it could be very dangerous."

Souce: Australian Doctor


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