Testimony by John Travolta that son was autistic raises Scientology questions

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Actor John Travolta testified in an extortion case in The Bahamas on Tuesday, and admitted in court that his late son was autistic. Travolta belongs to the controversial Church of Scientology, an organization which opposes psychiatry and does not recognize autism as an affliction. Prior to the testimony, Travolta had only publicly acknowledged that his son suffered from Kawasaki syndrome.

John Travolta promoting book Battlefield Earth, written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (2006)
Image: Phil Guest.
Cquote1.svg My son was autistic and suffered from seizure disorder. Cquote2.svg

John Travolta

Travolta's son Jett died in January 2009 at the age of 16 after experiencing a seizure. The ongoing extortion trial focuses on charges that attorney and Bahamian senator Pleasant Bridgewater and her client paramedic Tarrino Lightbourne requested US$25 million from Travolta in exchange for not revealing a document which stated Travolta did not wish for his son to be taken to a hospital. Travolta's son was transported to Rand Memorial hospital.

"My son was autistic and suffered from seizure disorder. Every five to ten days he suffered seizures which lasted 45 seconds to a minute," said Travolta in his court testimony. He said that after experiencing a seizure, his son would typically sleep for a period of 12 hours. The judge in the case instructed Travolta that he could be called back to testify later in the trial.

Critics have asserted that Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston, also a Scientologist, had not previously discussed their son's autism in public due to their ties to Scientology. The Times reported that Travolta's court admission of his son's autism places him in contradiction with the views of Scientology. According to The Daily Telegraph, Travolta arrived at the courthouse in The Bahamas escorted by several Scientologists.

Former Scientology minister, Bruce Hines, spoke to CBS News about the organization's beliefs regarding illness. "They believe that the only reason a person can get ill is because they are in some way connected to a suppressive person and a suppressive person is someone who is opposed to Scientology," said Hines. He also commented on why John Travolta and Kelly Preston would have kept their son's affliction hidden from the public: "It's really a big deal, so how the Travoltas dealt with this--a chronic illness in the family, I'm not sure how they would have been able to explain it."

Cquote1.svg The Church of Scientology has no position on autism. Cquote2.svg

Tommy Davis, Scientology International

MSNBC reported that Scientology International representative Tommy Davis denied that his organization took a position on the medical disease. "The Church of Scientology has no position on autism," said Davis. "As with any medical condition, the Church believes that these matters are best diagnosed and treated by a medical doctor. Scientologists can and do then also seek spiritual assistance."

Cquote1.svg The Citizens Commission on Human Rights believes that there is no known medical treatment for autism except off-label drugs. Cquote2.svg

Scientology-affiliated organization, Citizens Commission On Human Rights (CCHR)

The Citizens Commission On Human Rights (CCHR), a human rights group founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969, submitted a comment on autism to a bill before the United States Senate in 2008. The bill was SB 1563: Pervasive developmental disorders. The comment by CCHR was submitted under the heading: "Arguments in opposition", and stated "The Citizens Commission on Human Rights believes that there is no known medical treatment for autism except off-label drugs."

Wikinews reported on views of representatives of Scientology on psychiatry in February 2009. Individuals affiliated with the Church of Scientology appeared on a program called The No Drug Show, and blamed both the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the attack on Pearl Harbor on psychiatrists. David Figueroa, a spokesperson for CCHR, erroneously claimed that Osama bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri is a psychiatrist, as did former CCHR-International president Dennis H. Clarke. Zawahiri is actually a surgeon; he is not a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

The issue of Scientology's stance on psychiatry was brought to the forefront in the media during a 2005 appearance by Tom Cruise on NBC's program Today with Matt Lauer. At the time Cruise told Lauer he was critical of psychiatry and the use of antidepressants. In a December 2008 appearance on the Today show on a promotional tour for his film Valkyrie, Cruise told Lauer he wanted to apologize and felt he appeared arrogant in his 2005 interview.


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