A family doctor who helped perform an exorcism on a seriously ill woman, promising her that God could ‘heal’ her without medication was struck off at a Manchester tribunal today, after being branded a risk to all patients.
Christian GP Dr Thomas O’Brien, 56, persuaded the former Convent girl to undergo the spiritual procedure at his local Pentecostal church after telling her: ”God is your surgeon.”
The mother of six later claimed the experience led to her ‘roar like a lion’, and compared it to a scene out of Tom Hanks prison drama The Green Mile, in which a death row inmate sucks out the illness from people using supernatural powers.
In the four months before the exorcism, O’Brien had also subjected the patient – who was in great pain and suffering from depression after stomach surgery – to ‘religious grooming’ or ‘soaking’. He said the ‘devil was having a real go at her’, and that she had ‘devil items’ in her house, including ebony figurines bought by her truck driver husband.
The doctor quoted the Bible and prayed with her at home, where he would weep with joy and speak in tongues. He programmed her television to automatically switch on to the Gospel Channel at 7am each morning, which featured religious rants by American evangelist Andrew Wommack.
O’Brien and his wife Tina, 62, from Stoke-on-Trent, also gave the woman a copy of a book he had written with his wife and got her to meet the local pastor over lunch at a restaurant, as well as signing a document called the Prayer of Repentance.
Against the advice of her family, the woman, known as Patient A, subsequently stopped taking her medication and told the couple: ”I believe the Lord can fix me in many ways. Psychiatrist vs. our Lord is no competition at all – same as the devil.”
She later told a psychiatrist of her experiences, who subsequently reported O’Brien to the General Medical Council. The patient is now too fearful of venturing into parts of her hometown for fear of bumping into the GP.
At a hearing of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in Manchester, O’Brien’s fitness to practise was found to be impaired.
Professor Tim Hendra, Chairman of the hearing, said: ”The Panel wishes to make clear that they are not passing judgment on the personal religious beliefs held by Dr O’Brien.
”It is, however, passing judgement on the intensity, extent and manner on which he imposed those views upon a vulnerable patient as the Panel has found Patient A to be.
“Religious ‘soaking’ is inappropriate in a vulnerable patient because it results in an imbalance between a patient’s spiritual needs and other aspects of life. This imbalance caused significant distress to Patient A.
”The Panel are of the opinion that Dr O’Brien has shown a lack of compassion towards Patient A, as he allowed her to be exploited and caused her distress. He abused his position of trust as a doctor by imposing his religious beliefs upon Patient A, who was, and remains a vulnerable patient. The Panel is of the view that Dr O’Brien presents a risk to the public.”
The hearing was told the woman had been prescribed anti-depressants, anti-hypertensive and analgesic medication, and was said to be suicidal and in great pain after colostomy surgery. She met O’Brien in August 2012, when he was a locum at a Health Centre in Stoke. He later asked her if she had a faith and said that his wife knew of a ‘different way’ that could heal her, that did not involve medication.
Patient A was given numerous religious gifts, including clothes and a leather-bound Bible. She was offered the use of a lodge in Scotland and the GP’s avocado-coloured whirlpool/ Jacuzzi bath.
She sobbed as she told the hearing: ”Religion was all around me morning, noon and night, and it was just ‘God, God, God’. To this day I don’t know the exact name of whatever religion I was following with them.
“I am not sure if they were Jehovah’s. I think they were born again Christians, because he talked about rebirth a lot and when he would be reborn. He told me when I would be baptised and said that all life begins at that stage.
“He used to stand there, crying at anything, every time I did something to please or follow them, or when he felt like I had done something really good to repay them for complete kindness. If I prayed or acted in a Christian way they would praise me.
“He used to put his arm on my shoulder and then he would start speaking in tongues. I thought it was a load of mumbo jumbo because I couldn’t understand it, but I now know he was speaking in tongues. Then the tears would come down his face due to the elation that I had prayed, so I felt good because I had made them happy.
“They said the only way out of weakness and sinning was to pray constantly. I used to pray all the time. I prayed making a cup of tea, thanking God for the cup of tea, and I would pray about the washing up.”
Recalling the exorcism, the woman, who is currently studying at university, said: “They called it a testimonial. Tom had said, ‘do you want to come to a meeting to see how the occult screws you up?’ There were over 100 people there. I cried within about 20 minutes.
”I sat next to them and cried. I didn’t like what I was hearing. Maybe I got the feeling that I wasn’t happy or this was scaring me, but if I believed in God it wouldn’t scare me. They said it was the devil coming out of me. There was a South African man who I only knew as Persistent Percy. He decided that he could take the spirits and the devil out of me, and what happened after that was bizarre.
“There were five or six of them on me, touching my arms, elbow and head. They figured out anything that went wrong was because I was evil or the devil. Tom and Tina were there with their hands on me. They looked delighted, almost ecstatic.
“I guess they really believed in this and thought they were healing me. If you have seen the Green Mile, there is a section in there where the prison warden’s wife has cancer and he sucks the cancer and the badness away. It was like that. This guy said ‘hold your hands out, turn them up and close your eyes. You may fall over but close your eyes’.”
“He said you have got to have faith and trust and if you fall on the floor don’t worry, you are in safe hands. He started blowing all over me and then shouted ‘I command these demons out of this woman! I ask you Lord and I command, leave this woman’s body now!’
“I can’t do it how it happened but it was awful. A roar came out of me. It’s a roar I can’t describe. It was like a lion. I don’t think I could do it again.”
Dr O’Brien, who qualified from the National University of Ireland in 1982, denied misconduct and he said he had resigned from medicine. He was not at the week-long hearing, but sent a letter to the panel.
It said: “If I had my time all over again, I would still help Patient A (or anyone else in the same situation) if I was asked to do so, and I would still offer the person spiritual care.”
Story via Cavendish Press
Image courtesy of George Redgrave, with thanks