Archived blog post

The Negligent Manslaughter of Emily Rose

Posted by Ben on Saturday, December 03, 2005 | Permalink
 

This film is based on a true story.

Gah. The only film I'm willing to allow to use a variation on that line is Fargo, and that's because they were taking the piss. Otherwise, if a film claims to be based on a true story, it's dollars to donuts they've taken the bare bones of a real life occurence and amped up the more fantastical, mythical and crowd-pleasing elements, or made stuff up entirely. There's nothing wrong with that - inspiration has to come from somewhere - but do they have to claim that it's based on fact? The statement implies a whole lot more than 'I read about this and had a cracking idea'.

From what I've read - I admit I haven't seen it - The Exorcism of Emily Rose is quite reasonable in the description of the real girl's behaviour, if a little devoted to 'The Exorcist' style of get-thee-out-Satan shenanigans. On the courtroom side of things, however, there's an injection of supernatural happings during the trial to spice things up, which is where the 'based on a true story' annoyance comes in.

Anyway. The story this film is based on is that of Anneliese Michel, from Leiblfing, Germany. Suffering from seizures and hallucinations, she was deemed possessed and the Bishop of Wurzburg authorised biweekly exorcisms, which lasted for nearly a year until she died. Forensic evidence indicated that the cause of death was starvation, and her parents and the exorcists were convicted of negligent manslaughter.

Evidently Anneliese was suffering the worst delusions, but what about those others, that indulged in the fantasy of possession and contributed to her death? 'The absurdity and danger of religious beliefs'? Right here. I'm reminded of an even worse case where a Romanian priest ordered the crucifixion of a nun because he believed her to be possessed. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the article is this comment:

"I don't know what this young woman did."

What she did was this:

"she had an argument with the Father during a Sunday mass and insulted him in front of the congregation"

Obviously she was just begging to be gagged and crucified, and there's some of the biggest dangers of religion: the use of it and the respect it is granted to justify atrocities - just how much of this case is down to his beliefs and how much is it straight-up murder with religion as a cover? - and the way blind faith can lead someone to commit them with what they see as the best intentions. If he's not yer standard killer, this clown actually thinks he's done her a favour.

Update: Just had a gander on the BBC, and found this update - Sister Cornici's body has been exhumed to perform a second autopsy at the request of the defendants, who want to find the 'real causes of the death'. It also mentions that Cornici was believed to suffer from schizophrenia, and that whilst the nuns involved in the exorcism protested because she was denied water during her exorcism, they had all obeyed the priest. Respect, authority, the 'because I said so' problem. A bunch of idiots and one utter bastard.

Some info on Anneliese Michel from
here.
Info on Sister Cornici from Pharyngula.

Comments [ hide comments ]
Evidently you are much moved by the suffering of the mentally ill and the ways in which religion may be used to take advantage of their delusions, or the prejudices of their carers.

So am I.

But I would be equally concerned about the failures of the medico-rational establsihment. Do you think no drug for the mentally ill has ever caused a death? Do you think that the mentally ill have never been subject to cruel procedures by the medical establishment? Do you think that drug companies don't make pot loads of money by keeping millions of people on tranquillisers?

It seems to me that the threat to humanity from increasingly sophisticated drug treatments - that can undermine or control character - is far greater than this old bugbear about mad exorcists.

Also religion has undoubtedly been an effective pain killer - even Marx called it the opium of the people: he didn't say the placebo of the people. So if it is effective in relieving suffering why try and suggest it is any worse than drug treatment?
field, 05.12.2005, 8:24am #
'Do you think no drug for the mentally ill has ever caused a death? Do you think that the mentally ill have never been subject to cruel procedures by the medical establishment? Do you think that drug companies don't make pot loads of money by keeping millions of people on tranquillisers?'

No, I don't think any of those things. But this website is called Religion is Bullshit, where we highlight the dangers of religious belief. If I ran a website called 'Fire is Dangerous', would you call me on the fact that I'd failed to mention that many other things are also dangerous, including drops from tall buildings, running with scissors and crossing without looking? In the cases I'm talking about I've highlighted how religious belief has contributed to two deaths. Do I really need to say "of course, there are many other cases where something else has contributed to a death"? Because we'd be here all day, and the website's URL would be huge. Unless we called it 'X is Bullshit' where anyone can insert their own ideas as X.

'It seems to me that the threat to humanity from increasingly sophisticated drug treatments - that can undermine or control character - is far greater than this old bugbear about mad exorcists.'

But what if a person's natural state - their character, if you like - is manic depressive or schizophrenic? Whilst I agree that too many people get put on happy pills by lazy GPs, that's not a critique of drug treatments but of the implementation of them - your beef is with the drug companies, not the drugs. The argument over whether an unmedicated person is the 'real' one is complicated - in the case of depressives and schizophrenics, for instance, you'd be claiming that their untreated state is preferable, despite them being far more normal with drug treatment.

'Also religion has undoubtedly been an effective pain killer - even Marx called it the opium of the people: he didn't say the placebo of the people. So if it is effective in relieving suffering why try and suggest it is any worse than drug treatment?'

In your last sentence there, aren't you getting mixed up between 'effective' and 'equally effective'? Something can be effective and still be worse than drug treatment. I don't think 'pain killer' is the right way to describe it, although certainly it's a source of great comfort to many people and one of the few characteristics of religion I have some sympathy with. It's also completely useless to many people as a source of comfort, and so it can't really be claimed to be effective in relieving suffering - it only works for those that already believe, and even then not always. In the cases talked about in the main post, do you disagree that religion was significantly worse in treating those women?!
Ben, 05.12.2005, 7:49pm #
"No, I don't think any of those things. But this website is called Religion is Bullshit, where we highlight the dangers of religious belief. If I ran a website called 'Fire is Dangerous', would you call me on the fact that I'd failed to mention that many other things are also dangerous, including drops from tall buildings, running with scissors and crossing without looking? In the cases I'm talking about I've highlighted how religious belief has contributed to two deaths. Do I really need to say "of course, there are many other cases where something else has contributed to a death"?"

Well of course you are not comparing like with like, as I suspect you may realise. A more accurate comparison would be say is it safer to heat your house centrasl heating or an open fire. Now both will be unsafe to a degree but one will be more unsafe than the other. Now if all you ever do is complain about the dangers of central heating with no mention of the dangers of open fire, will might encourage people to choose open fires as an alternative with possibly negative effects.

If we are talking about treatment of the mentally ill, the issue is what are the best treatments - or possibly is it best to leave mentally ill people to get on with it by themselves.

I know personally of a case of an epileptic person who died from thrombosis as a direct result of his drug treatment. Such deaths must be considered on a par with deaths from exorcism if we are to have a fair comaprison, since an exorcist will no doubt say that he/she has performed hundreds of "successful" procedures.

"Because we'd be here all day, and the website's URL would be huge. Unless we called it 'X is Bullshit' where anyone can insert their own ideas as X."


All you have to do is give an occasional nod in the other direction. ONe sentence saying perhaps: of course medical treaments based on rational science cause hundreds of thousands of early deaths every year, many more than exorcisms.


"But what if a person's natural state - their character, if you like - is manic depressive or schizophrenic? Whilst I agree that too many people get put on happy pills by lazy GPs, that's not a critique of drug treatments but of the implementation of them - your beef is with the drug companies, not the drugs. The argument over whether an unmedicated person is the 'real' one is complicated - in the case of depressives and schizophrenics, for instance, you'd be claiming that their untreated state is preferable, despite them being far more normal with drug treatment."

No I'm not arguing any of those things. I'm arguing that drug treatment (and indeed genetic science) is going in a certain direction which will eventually lead to hard choices. This isn't mny kookie take on things. YOu should read the book by Martin Rees (renowned scientist) called The Final Century. He sees this danger very clearly. We are faced with hard choices. And one of them might be to set limits on how much we do to interfere with people's personalities.

"In your last sentence there, aren't you getting mixed up between 'effective' and 'equally effective'? Something can be effective and still be worse than drug treatment. I don't think 'pain killer' is the right way to describe it, although certainly it's a source of great comfort to many people and one of the few characteristics of religion I have some sympathy with. It's also completely useless to many people as a source of comfort, and so it can't really be claimed to be effective in relieving suffering - it only works for those that already believe, and even then not always. In the cases talked about in the main post, do you disagree that religion was significantly worse in treating those women?! "


I couldn't possibly say about the individual women. Personally I think exorcism is a dangerous procedure with no foundation in fact. I would prefer mentally ill people to try a range of natural cures (in the sense of being built around the things that humans need to function well - good nutrition, exercise, fresh air etc.). Developing a good philosophical outlook can also help. Religion may play a part in that as long as it is not a descent into pure superstition. Whether religion is more effective than drugs in bringing relief from mental suffering is purely a matter of how these things work on the individual. We should always start with the individual rather than "mass trials" and claimed average benefits.
field, 06.12.2005, 1:16pm #
Before I get any further, know that I don't appreciate the accusation of intellectual dishonesty. Does saying “'as I suspect you may realise' add anything to your argument beyond stating your belief that I'm not tackling your argument in good faith? If that's what you think then why not just say “there's no point arguing, you're being dishones and save us both some time? I'm not sure quite how you've even got the gall to say it, considering the pile of strawmen I have to dig my way through every time you comment.

Regarding your first paragraph. You've managed already to twist the debate. It's you that made this into an either/or, not me. I pointed out the dangers of exorcism with two examples - and you've agreed in your last paragraph that it's dangerous and has no basis in fact. Hurrah. Beyond that, I didn't continue by saying 'look, drugs are always the answer, get 'em down you!" I do like the rhetorical trick whereby you paint me as warning about the safer of two options central heating to open fire and I'm the one warning about central heating, “look at this guy, advocating fire over central heating! - but that dog won't hunt. The proper analogy would be me warning against setting yourself on fire to keep warm (or setting people on fire in the belief it'll keep them warm), and leaving decisions about open fire or central heating up to the reader. There's no way exorcisms involving extreme starvation or crucifiction are on any rational list of treatment for mental illness, and for you to decree that writing a post about that without adding some postscript discussing the various pros and cons of proper treatment is somehow dishonest or dangerous is ridiculous. Do you honestly think that by highlighting the dangers of these exorcisms, I'm pushing someone to one particular form of treatment? How come you don't assume I might convince someone to take up your '“fresh air and exercise' program? You've managed to arrive at this point by changing the debate from '“dangerous exorcisms' to '“religion vs drugs as a treatment for mental illness' despite the post not actually addressing sensible treatment. You say '“If we are talking about treatment of the mentally ill, the issue is what are the best treatments' believe it or not, as a guest on this website you don't get to say what the issue is! Like I say, I'm here to write about the dangers of religion. Furthermore, as long as we remove the 'bastard factor' (ie dishonest or outright malicious use of favoured treatment) then drug treatment deaths and exorcism deaths aren't of a kind, because in the case of the former there is good reason to believe it will work.

No particular argument with your second paragraph.

Third paragraph, I'd like you to clarify something - are you saying you think that schizophrenics, manic depressives and psychopaths should try eating right, getting plenty of exercise and changing their outlook on life rather than using the available drug treatments? I'm not taking a rhetorical swipe here (yet I can't guarantee I won't later), I genuinely want some clarification.

Edit: as a further point regarding the third paragraph. If that's not what you're saying, then you've also twisted things so you're talking about mental suffering - mild depression, SAD, your standard cases of the blues - rather than illnesses such as schizophrenia. Every time you reply you've shifted the argument, it's like trying to nail jelly to the bloody wall.
Ben, 06.12.2005, 8:11pm #
"Before I get any further, know that I don't appreciate the accusation of intellectual dishonesty. Does saying '“as I suspect you may realise' add anything to your argument beyond stating your belief that I'm not tackling your argument in good faith? If that's what you think then why not just say there's no point arguing, you're being dishonest' and save us both some time? I'm not sure quite how you've even got the gall to say it, considering the pile of strawmen I have to dig my way through every time you comment."

I thought you were employing a rhetorical device that you knew wasn't really applicable. But I'm happy to withdraw any hint of an accusation. Let's assume your intellectual endeavours are always bathed in the soft glow of righteousness.

"Regarding your first paragraph. You've managed already to twist the debate. It's you that made this into an either/or, not me. I pointed out the dangers of exorcism with two examples - and you've agreed in your last paragraph that it's dangerous and has no basis in fact. Hurrah. Beyond that, I didn't continue by saying 'look, drugs are always the answer, get 'em down you!" I do like the rhetorical trick whereby you paint me as warning about the safer of two options -“ central heating to open fire and I'm the one warning about central heating, '“look at this guy, advocating fire over central heating' - but that dog won't hunt. The proper analogy would be me warning against setting yourself on fire to keep warm (or setting people on fire in the belief it'll keep them warm), and leaving decisions about open fire or central heating up to the reader."

I don't see how anybody could say I was offering an either or choice. I was clearly advocating a comparative choice. In the context of this site and its title your post must be considered an attack on religion and its role in treatment of the mentally ill. So your attempts now to confine your criticism to the quoted cases is disingenuous to say the least.
I could equally quote a Killer Doctor cases to prove that medecine is bad.

My point is that we have to judge the effect of religion (since this is a site looking at religion it would seem) on the mentally ill in the round. Whilst I would not personally advise anyoen with a mental illness to get heavily involved in religion I can see how it can help them in many ways - though as with drug treatment, it can also harm them.

"There's no way exorcisms involving extreme starvation or crucifiction are on any rational list of treatment for mental illness, and for you to decree that writing a post about that without adding some postscript discussing the various pros and cons of proper treatment is somehow dishonest or dangerous is ridiculous."

I agree about your comments on such exorcisms. But how many people in the developed world are going to disagree with you? I can hardly think that you were expecting anyone to defend these practices.

"Do you honestly think that by highlighting the dangers of these exorcisms, I'm pushing someone to one particular form of treatment?"

I'm not sure I was suggesting that. If I did it was a mistake. My point was that a rationally based, non-religious approach (drug medicine) can also result in horrible death eg.crippling thrombosis in some young women who take dangerous hormonal contraceptives.


"You've managed to arrive at this point by changing the debate from '“dangerous exorcisms' to '“religion vs drugs as a treatment for mental illness' despite the post not actually addressing sensible treatment. You say '“If we are talking about treatment of the mentally ill, the issue is what are the best treatments'“ believe it or not, as a guest on this website you don't get to say what the issue is! Like I say, I'm here to write about the dangers of religion. Furthermore, as long as we remove the 'bastard factor' (ie dishonest or outright malicious use of favoured treatment) then drug treatment deaths and exorcism deaths aren't of a kind, because in the case of the former there is good reason to believe it will work."

Well I think the above just shows you are pre-judging the issue. We would have to look at a lot of data before we could draw the conclusions you do. To quote mad exorcism cases no more illustrates the "dangers of religion" than does quoting a couple of Dr. Death cases.

"Third paragraph, I'd like you to clarify something - are you saying you think that schizophrenics, manic depressives and psychopaths should try eating right, getting plenty of exercise and changing their outlook on life rather than using the available drug treatments? I'm not taking a rhetorical swipe here (yet I can't guarantee I won't later), I genuinely want some clarification.

Edit: as a further point regarding the third paragraph. If that's not what you're saying, then you've also twisted things so you're talking about mental suffering - mild depression, SAD, your standard cases of the blues - rather than illnesses such as schizophrenia. Every time you reply you've shifted the argument, it's like trying to nail jelly to the bloody wall."

Whatever the severity of illness, metnal or physical, nearly everyone can benefit from things like good nutrition, fresh air. good "body maintenance" etc. I am not ruling out drug treatment but I think we need to be careful about (a) the use of any drugs to effect what you might call "personality surgery". This is a very difficult area - I don't pretend to have all the answers. But certainly, a healthy religious or philosophical outlook on life is part of the answer in my view. Drug use should be kept to a minimum.

Don't know if you saw the chap Neil in Seven Up on TV - we saw him descend in his twenties into great mental turmoil and suffering (associated I think with illegal as opposed to legal drug use). He may have had medication, I don't know, but he certainly improved a hell of a lot when he moved into a very friendly town in the
Orkneys. He's since become a town councillor I think. I am sure that the location - fresh air and countryside, the good housing (instead of dossing) had a lot to do with his recovery. I have also read of studies that show exercise is a very effective anti-depressant. CAn't quote anything - please don't make me look it up on the internet.
field, 07.12.2005, 1:17pm #
So, to recap: I post about lethal exorcisms (not solely criticising the two examples as you suggest but using them to highlight the issue) and the role blind faith plays in them. The point wasn't 'see how bad religion is at treating the mentally ill' but 'look what can happen When Believers Attack' (as it were). You say that you're more concerned with drug treatments for the mentally ill. I say that this is a website about religion. You say that if I don't mention drug treatment I'm possibly pushing people towards that line, then retract the statement. I think we're done - hurray!

Two postscripts:
1)You're right, you didn't make it an either/or, so I take that back and humbly apologise.

2) "Please don't make me look it up on the internet" - rest assured I'd
never do anything to stretch this thread out one single word further than
absolutely necessary.
Ben, 08.12.2005, 7:55pm #
"So, to recap: I post about lethal exorcisms (not solely criticising the two examples as you suggest but using them to highlight the issue) and the role blind faith plays in them. The point wasn't 'see how bad religion is at treating the mentally ill' but 'look what can happen When Believers Attack' (as it were). You say that you're more concerned with drug treatments for the mentally ill. I say that this is a website about religion. You say that if I don't mention drug treatment I'm possibly pushing people towards that line, then retract the statement. I think we're done - hurray!"

Well if the intent was show "what happens when believers attack", then that is a v. dishonest way of proceeding, since you must know that the vast majority of Christians - indeed I would hazard the vast majority of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs and Pagans would never ever contemplate inflicting such cruelty on a mentally ill person. So, your cases illustrate nothing more than the capacity of some human beings for cruelty - which any intelligent person is aware of.

"Two postscripts:
1)You're right, you didn't make it an either/or, so I take that back and humbly apologise.

2) "Please don't make me look it up on the internet" - rest assured I'd
never do anything to stretch this thread out one single word further than
absolutely necessary. "

1. Thanks. 2. Only because I was a bit busy.
field, 09.12.2005, 9:05am #
She was poessesed by demons, you fools!!!
They exist whether you like it or not.
Rev_Holy_Fire, 13.12.2005, 1:02am #
Exactly why Christianity needs to come under revision, and why evangelists are ridiculed worldwide for being boneheads.
Tian Jiang, 14.12.2005, 12:56am #
RELIGION IS PIG-SHIT----SO LET US COME UP WITH SOME CONSTRUCTIVE IDEAS TO SUBSTITUTE FOR IT !!!!

SWINETOLOGY IS THE ONLY TRUE RELIGION !!!!

IMA HOG
Ima Hog, 06.01.2006, 11:26pm #
Atheism is stupidity. When you can prove that something can come out of nothing, I'll take atheism seriously.
How could this universe come from nothing?
We are complex beings that were created from God. Deny as much as you want, but it doesn't change this fact.

Sorry, I just don't have enough faith to be an atheist.

You seriously can't be an atheist?
RHF, 07.01.2006, 12:21am #
erm, faith is defined as "beleif in something without evidence to support it" just what christianity is, becuase atheists find evidence to support their beleifs

and coming from nothing...isn't that what the invisible sky-man wants you to beleive?
Shaggy, 07.01.2006, 4:22am #
Field

"Marx called it the opium of the people."

If you know Marx, you know that he didn't respect religious beliefs. I think he meant that it lulled his people into submission so that he could commit atrocities against them. That's like me, a devout atheist, using Hitler's "final solution" as a positive means of ridding the world of a religious group I don't agree with.

Be careful whom you quote.
devouthumanist, 11.01.2006, 4:17am #
Shaggy,

"Faith is defined as "beleif in something without evidence to support it."

Damn right! lol, only you forgot one important detail. Most religious folk do find evidence to support their faith. They simply make it up as they go along, throwing out the bits and pieces that don't fit their religious beliefs, i.e. intelligent design.

I suppose it's easier to start with a conclusion first, then custom fit your facts to answer a question you already have the answer to, rather than start with an educated guess and find out if the facts prove or disprove it.

My favorite part is when evidence to the contrary is found, we chuck it and say that "it works in mysterious ways." That protects anyone from the burden of having any actual knowledge.
devouthumanist, 11.01.2006, 4:25am #
RHF,
"Atheism is stupidity. When you can prove that something can come out of nothing, I'll take atheism seriously.
How could this universe come from nothing?
We are complex beings that were created from God. Deny as much as you want, but it doesn't change this fact."

Let's not talk about denying facts. You're denying the fact that we're talking about The Emily Rose film and wasting space with repetetive drivel. Get lost.
devouthumanist, 11.01.2006, 4:27am #
I guess I'm the only one up late tonight. Anyway, I saw the Emily Rose film and I just have to say that I REALLY hate the too common Hollywood trend of saying that something is based on a true story. It should say instead: "Bastardization of a story which was more significant because of its effect on legal issues than its religious significance."

I hated the addition of all the supernatural jazz surrounding the trial because it portrayed Emily Rose as actually being possessed. The girl the story was "loosely" based on was just plain sick in the head.
devouthumanist, 11.01.2006, 4:45am #
Devouthumanist, I know, it's annoying - despite the conviction of the priest in real life, the film still manages to insinuate that something spooky was going on! Obviously, that's because it's more dramatic and, I guess, that makes it a better film. This raises an interesting point - given that humans appear to 'enjoy' a supernatural explanation more than a rational one, we should be extra skeptical when one is offered, because there seems to be something in us that wants to believe it.
Ben, 11.01.2006, 8:02pm #
RHF,
Emily Rose was poessesed by demons whether you like or not. Ben knows they exist, because he consults with them every day on how to deceive people. This is why he deletes my posts, so that you will be blind to the truth.
RHF, 12.01.2006, 2:35am #
Talking to yourself now, RHF? And Emily Rose is a fictional character.
Ben, 12.01.2006, 7:49am #
RHF,

Emily Rose IS a fictional character, but the young girl she was based on is NOT at all fictional. That's why they say that the film is "based on a true story." As it states at the top of this thread, her name was Annelise Michel. She didn't die of possession by a demon, by the way. She died of extreme stress, fatigue, oh and uh...STARVATION. That's because the priest that carried out her execution...excuse me....exorcism would not allow her to eat. One of the things that pissed me off about the movie was that the priest on trial in the film stated that Emily refused to eat. This was probably done to show the "depth" of her alleged possession. Emily needed an exorcism, Annelise Michel needed a doctor or several doctors.

I think it's more appropriate to say:

"This film is an attempt to sensationalize the real-life misfortune of a disturbed young girl to spook you out and make the production company a shit load of money."

VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED
devouthumanist, 12.01.2006, 6:26pm #
Anneliese Michel - An anagram for "I see hell in me." Coincidence or proof? If you have to think about that for more than a couple of seconds, your sanity or insanity might be in question. She was the perfect mental storm. This poor girl had some form of illness that caused her brain to undergo powerful Grand Mal seizures. The damage to her brain was extensive enough to cause psychosis. Since she was a devout catholic, her deepest beliefs became the unconscious foundation for the delusions and hallucinations forming her waking nightmare. She must have felt guilt over something she did at or about the onset of the seizures. In her mind these things were a punishment from God. Her nightmare got worse as the priests confirmed her fears and fed her delusions, until at last, she died. She might have lived as a semi-functioning psychotic for a while with proper care and understanding. She would not have suffered the experience, the horror, of being possessed by demons, if it weren't for religion. "Ignorance and Superstition they are like twin idiots running rampant through the land"-Aristotle
antivenom, 21.12.2011, 5:08am #
This website seems to draw the very worst in religious people. This can have an insidious effect on the mind. Religious people aren't all as unsound and irrational as some of our visitors have demonstrated. I would like to encourage everyone to stay mindful of this.
antivenom, 21.12.2011, 5:20am #

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