Church Settles Death Lawsuit
The Church of Scientology has settled a lawsuit that accused staff members of allowing a member of the church to become severely dehydrated and die.
Lisa McPherson, 36, died in 1995 after 17 days of care by Scientology staffers. The lawsuit, filed by her family, spawned a number of related legal actions as McPherson’s death became a rallying point for an anti-Scientology movement.
“There is a settlement. The terms are confidential,” Church of Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw said Saturday. The church had no other comment on the case.
McPherson, a Scientologist, had been involved in a minor traffic accident in Clearwater but did not have obvious injuries. After the accident, however, she took her clothes off and asked paramedics for help.
She was taken to a local hospital for psychiatric evaluation but left later that day with Scientology members who said they would care for her. Scientologists oppose psychiatric treatment.
The church said McPherson died from a pulmonary embolism, the result of the traffic accident she had the day before she was taken to the church spiritual headquarters in Clearwater.
Doctors had said McPherson was battling a severe mental breakdown.
In 1998, Pinellas County State Atty. Bernie McCabe filed criminal charges against the church for practicing medicine without a license and abusing a disabled adult. No individuals were charged.
According to an affidavit from an investigator working for McCabe, McPherson was suffering from severe dehydration when she died.
The charges were dropped in 2000 after the county medical examiner changed her finding in the cause of McPherson’s death from “undetermined” to “accidental.”
The civil suit was filed in 1997 on behalf of McPherson’s estate but never went to trial.
Lawyers for the church and the estate had been negotiating for several months.
Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar, an attorney for the McPherson estate, accused church leaders of intentionally allowing McPherson to die.
The church accused Dandar of trying to undermine Scientology with the financial backing of millionaire Robert Minton, who had been a chief critic of the church.
In April 2003, Minton accused Dandar of urging him to lie under oath, drawing up false court records and pushing him to drum up anti-Scientology publicity. Dandar contended Minton’s testimony was extorted by the church.
Scientology is an applied religious philosophy that was founded 54 years ago by writer L. Ron Hubbard, church spokeswoman Pat Harney said. Critics have accused Scientology of being a cult-like organization and of engaging in mind control.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.