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By Jim Edwards
Apr 7, 2010
GlaxoSmithKline, which was already the focus of controversy over whether it ignored the suicide risk of its antidepressant Paxil, has found itself linked to the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child abuse in the death of a priest who took the drug.
The case seems bound to become a further PR headache for GSK, which in 2008 was accused of obscuring the suicide risk of Paxil in studies for 15 years.
Father Rick Tucker, who took Paxil because he was upset about the way his parish ignored a child abuse scandal, may have committed suicide because of side effects from the drug and not the stress from the cover-up, a federal judge ruled. Judge David H. Hamilton of Indiana’s federal court found that Tucker’s sister Debra could sue GSK over the death of her brother, who shot himself to death in September 2002.
The Tucker case stems from 1966, when Debra Tucker was 10 years old and attended the St. Lawrence Parish church in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. At the same time, Rick attended St. Mary’s Seminary in the same parish. Between 1966 and 1968, Debra was raped two to four times a month by St. Lawrence’s children’s choir instruction, a lay employee of the church, she alleges. In 1968, Tucker had an abortion at the abuser’s behest, and then her family including Rick, who had no idea what was going on moved house and the abuse stopped. Debra remained in the area and over the years the abuser painted her house and attended the funerals of both her parents, she alleges.
In July 2000, after Debra discovered that the abuser had also allegedly assaulted his own children, she attended a meeting with Father Tucker, St. Lawrence’s Monsignor Robert Sell and other church officials. She claims that Sell and the church agreed to ensure that the abuser had no further contact with children in the parish and in return she would not sue the church.
After learning that Sell and the church allegedly did nothing about the man, Debra Tucker sued for breach of contract in a separate case not involving GSK.
The parish dragged its feet over the lawsuit, and as Father Tucker waited for word over whether his employers would settle his sister’s case, he became increasingly anxious. He was also worried about an upcoming audit by the diocese because, the judge wrote, he had “advanced himself some monies” and the Church would discover these “irregularities.”
However, his anxieties were misplaced: the audit did not uncover any irregularities in Father Tucker’s bookkeeping, the ruling says. The Tucker family’s lawyer said that the amounts involved were in the $50 range and thus proof that Father Tucker’s anxiety was a product of the drug and not the situation he was in.
After taking Paxil, Tucker went into a sudden depressive tailspin. His diary for Aug. 30, 2002, just two days after he was prescribed the pill, says:
- “Things have gotten behind and I do not know how to catch up. I want to live, but I want out of the pain. I feel like I am in an ocean and I can’t swim to the top for air. . . . I can see no way out of it. I know that if I follow through with the thoughts that come to my mind, there will be people hurt. … Debra I am sorry.”
Father Tucker killed himself on Sept. 18.
Debra Tucker alleges in her complaint against GSK that the company knew as early as 1990 that Paxil potentially had an increased risk of suicide, and that the company failed to warn patients of the risk of akathisia, psychosis or violent self harm. Akathisia is a profound state of anxiety in which patients, unable to rest, believe they are doomed.
GSK had asked the judge to summarily dismiss the case based because the expert witnesses who testified that Father Tucker’s death was triggered by the Paxil and not the other stresses in his life were inadequate. The judge ruled there was a case to answer.
GSK and Msgr. Sell did not immediately respond to emails and a voicemail requesting comment. I’ve decided not to name the alleged abuser although his name is published in Debra Tucker’s complaint against the church because I could not reach him for comment.