Family of Scientologist Who Took Her Own Life After Self-Immolation Attempt Sues Church for Wrongful Death

Whitney Mills
Whtney Mills (above) took her own life at the age of 40.Instagram

Whitney Mills was "misdiagnosed with cancer and Lyme Disease and extorted for a series of alternative treatments of little to no utility for a person suffering from severe depression and anxiety," alleges the lawsuit.

The family of a high-ranking Scientologist who took her own life has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology.

On May 12, 2022, Whitney Mills "attempted to set herself on fire before inflicting herself with a gunshot wound," according to a copy of the lawsuit filed in a Florida court that was obtained and reviewed by Inside Edition Digital.

Mills' family claims in their lawsuit, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, that she took her life because she was struggling with a mental illness that was not being treated at the time because of the Church of Scientology teachings she was following. 

"The Scientology Defendants brainwashed her into believing that mental health professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists, and related medical treatments, such as antidepressants and other prescription drugs, were unnecessary and abhorrent," the filing alleges. "Upon learning of her problems, the Scientology Defendants took control of Mills’ medical care, thus foreclosing her from obtaining the exact treatment she needed, and sending her to an alternative medicine doctor who misdiagnosed her with cancer and Lyme Disease and extorted her for a series of alternative treatments of little to no utility for a person suffering from severe depression and anxiety.

"Everything foisted upon Mills by these Defendants was outside the field of mental health treatment, and everything failed," the filing claims. "She was at her wit’s end. Precluded from seeking the appropriate help, she felt she had no other choice."

In a statement to Inside Edition Digital, Scientology spokesperson Karen Pouw called Mills’ death “an unfortunate tragedy." She then dismissed some of the allegations made in the lawsuit, saying: “Church policy is crystal clear: if a Scientologist is in need of medical care, he or she must see a medical doctor. Any and all decisions regarding medical treatment are solely the decision of the individual. The Church does not provide medical advice.”

Mills was in the highest ranks in Scientology at the time of her death, "having paid [International Association of Scientologists Administrations, Inc.] and the other Scientology Defendants hundreds of thousands of dollars to attain her status," according to the lawsuit.       

Then, after allegedly suffering an "urgent mental health crisis that commenced with two visits to the emergency room in December 2021 and January 2022, [Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization] members of the Sea Org ordered that Mills be 'quarantined' starting in February 2022," according to the lawsuit.

At the same time, Mills allegedly began receiving treatment from Dr. David Minkoff, "a high-ranking Scientologist whose Florida license was suspended for a year due to his treatment of Lisa MacPherson," the lawsuit claims.

MacPherson was another Scientologist who died while a member of the church in 1995. In 1998, charges of abuse and/or neglect of a disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license were filed against Scientology after the autopsy found MacPherson's cause of death to be undetermined.

Those charges were later dropped when a second autopsy found MacPherson's cause of death to be an accident. Her family settled their lawsuit with the church out of court in 2003 and Minkoff paid $100,000 to the family via his malpractice insurance. He was fined $10,000 and had his license suspended in 2003 for prescribing medication to MacPherspon without having ever examined her in person.   

In their lawsuit, Mills' family alleges: Minkoff misinformed and misdiagnosed Mills with Lyme disease and a cancerous ovarian cyst, while largely ignoring her very real psychosis and mental health crisis. Instead of properly treating her, over the three months, Minkoff charged her over $20,000 for highly questionable, 'alternative' treatments, not one of which was covered by insurance or was of any use whatsoever to Mills."

The lawsuit claims that Mills' mental state grew worse in the weeks before her death, and she allegedly began to speak about a desire to complete suicide, or "drop the body."

According to the lawsuit, the term "drop the body" was "created by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s messianic founder.

"Following his 1986 death, Scientology leaders announced that (Hubbard's) body had become an impediment to his work and that he had decided to 'drop his body' to continue his research on another plane of existence," the lawsuit claims. "They further announced that Hubbard deliberately caused his spirit to discard his body, of which a side effect was his body’s death. In other words, Hubbard willfully dropped his body, ending his own corporeal life."

The lawsuit includes text exchanges that show messages allegedly sent by Mills to her "handlers" in which the suit claims she speaks about looking into this practice and gets little to no pushback.

By February, Mills allegedly said in one medical information sheet that "she was suffering from headaches, was underweight, lethargic, fatigued, and had poor memory," according to the lawsuit.

At the same time, "Mills began suffering chronic daily debilitating headaches, hallucinations, depression, lethargy, and even reported that her skin felt like it was on fire. Mills’ condition was so severe that she often found it difficult to leave the home or do regular daily activities such as bathing," alleges the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that in one text to Minkoff, Mills wrote: "[T]he pressure in my head is so intense, won’t seem to go away no matter what I did. Is there anything that can help relieve it … Can I take steroids? The pressure is so bad, I can’t get out of bed. Or is there something else that would help?”

In his response, Minkoff allegedly suggested trying a diuretic and then asked Mills "did you start the Ivermectin," according to the lawsuit.

Ivermectin is an antiparasitic often used to treat ringworm that Minkoff prescribed after allegedly diagnosing Mills with Babesia, a parasital infection. The drug saw a surge in popularity when it started being used off-label and against the advice of the FDA to try and treat COVID-19 during the pandemic.

In April, Mills allegedly sent Minkoff a text that said: "Is there anything else for the mental part? I’m seriously experiencing some mental illness. This is my biggest symptom is the mental part," alleges the lawsuit.

Minkoff allegedly responded by texting: “Got it. Got it. Drugs could numb you but you are OT. Put TR O in. It’s a sensation. It’s noise. It has no power over YOU. That’s the truth. Eye of the tiger. You are loved. You have friends and LRH. Duplicate it. Dissolve it. That is your power. You can be tone 40 with your TR O. That’s you as cause. I know you can. ML, dm," according to the lawsuit. "LRH" means L. Ron Hubbard and "TR O" refers to training exercises or drills used in the Church of Scientology that are said to help communicate effectively and control situations. 

One month later, Mills took her own life.

After months of constant supervision by fellow Scientologists, the lawsuit alleges that on the evening of May 12, Mills was suddenly left completely alone in the apartment, where she had been staying since January of that year.

"Taking advantage of the sudden lack of supervision, Mills attempted to set herself on fire by lighting her hair but was unsuccessful in doing so. Instead, she used a .38 special revolver to shoot herself in the head. She believed the only option left for her was to drop the body,'" alleges the lawsuit.

Mills' family accuses Scientology of negligent undertaking, negligent supervision and negligent infliction of emotional distress. They are seeking a jury trial as well as compensatory damages, costs and such other relief as the court deems appropriate.

"Ms. Mills was at home and not under the Church’s care or supervision at any time prior to her passing. None of the people caring for Ms. Mills at her home were staff of any Church," Pouw said in her statement to Inside Edition Digital.

She then said that Mills " had many friends, business associates and family members with whom she was in constant contact prior to her passing."

In response to the lawsuit, Pouw said: "It is frankly disgusting that anti-Scientologists have latched onto Ms. Mills’ passing in an attempt to forward their own agenda, as evidenced by the blatant falsehoods contained in the complaint regarding Scientology beliefs and practices."

She went on to say: "It is unfortunate that Ms. Mills’ mother filed this lawsuit.


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