21 March 2007

Hopefully doesn't have scapel, hopefully won't travel

I'll be the first to admit that I tend to be a bit of a news junkie, and in feeding this addiction, I go online and catch up on the 'events' while I'm sequestered to my office (which used to be a closet and has no windows, a fact that only seems to stem the need for a 'fix' when I'm getting stir crazy). Like all of you, I suppose, I have some sources that I turn regularly to hit the high points of news and opinion for my 5 to 10 minute breaks. And, like I'm sure the rest of you have noticed, the major news outlets seem to be pulling more and more from local news...which can be both a good and a bad thing. The subject matter of this piece came to my attention in such a manner.

Fair warning: if you're a bit squeamish in regards to medical 'procedures' and the like, it may be best to skip today's contribution. I take no responsibility for any electronics equipment (or for anything else, for that matter) that may need to be cleaned, replaced, etc., as a result of reading the following.

First off, let me give you a brief background as to why the following news story got my attention in the first place. As regular readers here know, I have a strong medical background, having worked in a variety of jobs in the field off and on since I was a teenager. Those jobs have ranged from the mundane (file clerk) to the more exciting (to me, anyway) stints as an EMS personnel member to assistant to a Chief Medical Officer and County Coroner. I also have extensively studied Abnormal Psychology, both as a college major and also quite a bit independently on my own, including a memorable session (in my braver, albeit much stupider days) of interviewing 5 convicted rapists and pedophiles. So, whereas I still don't think medicine and/or psychology are necessarily 'the' lifelong fields for me, I am extremely attracted to both...in many ways, both fields are like adrenaline rushes I can never really walk away from, as I miss the 'surge' when I'm working in another field. And reading about these subjects can only get you so far, but I do 'seek out' stories that are 'off the beaten path' in these areas, I admit.

Well, last week The Drudge Report found one for me. And boy howdy did they.

The following story comes from the rather folksy city of Waynesville, a community set among the North Carolina mountains along a major interstate. It's the kind of place where people still slow down and help a stranger if somebody's broken down on the side of the road, or will at least call the cops to report a motorist in trouble. It's the kind of place full of diners featuring chicken fried steak dinners and freshly brewed sweet tea. It's the kind of place where mechanics will come help out a college student moving cross country and fix the clogged fuel injectors on her car cheap and not charge her a towing charge, which is what happened to me on my move from the Midwest to Chapel Hill in 1992. It's the kind of place where you can get invited to attend a local church dinner for free while you're on the Greyhound Bus Trip from Hell, which happened to me in 2003. There are Christies and Heathers and Thelmas and so many Juniors around you can't help but hit one if you threw a stick. And it's scenic, with arching pine trees set against a Smoky Mountains backdrop (and the equally memorable 'runaway truck' exit ramps for the 18-wheelers whose brakes have failed), and its theme song is something booming from a country music station. And it has always appeared to me as a friendly, but pretty conservative, kind of place. All that history also lured me to this story.

Ladies and gentlemen of stronger constitutions than most (or maybe just a stronger desire for the 'weird' news story than most), I give you the March 16 story from the Asheville (NC) Citizen Times (with occasional break for commentary, and the bolds are mine):
Castration ring’s key figures gain freedom
‘Master’ jailed for 2 more weeks; lover, slave let go

WAYNESVILLE — The six men castrated in a sadomasochistic dungeon fashioned from an enclosed carport all told prosecutors they saw no need for criminal charges.

Even a judge Thursday said calling the men victims might be a stretch, though what happened was certainly a crime.

“I think this is a type of perversion that cannot be tolerated by society,” Superior Court Judge Dennis Winner said in sentencing three men who performed the castrations.

Richard Peter “Master Rick” Sciara and his partner of 20 years, Michael Mendez, both pleaded guilty to felony castration without malice and felony maiming without malice. The man Sciara and Mendez called their slave, Danny Carroll Reeves, also pleaded guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors said the crimes happened in 2004 and 2005 at house in a quiet neighborhood near Waynesville. In a search of the Peace Mountain Road home, investigators said they found evidence including a scrotum and a testicle kept in a freezer.
Hang with me here, folks. And no, this is not about the next Jeffrey Dahmer running around the mountain populations of western North Carolina.
Plea deal trims charges

In exchange for the pleas, the state dropped charges of misdemeanor practicing medicine without a license and conspiracy.

Winner sentenced Sciara, 62, to a year in jail and three years’ probation. Sciara has been in jail for 350 days since his arrest last year. The judge said his time served while waiting for trial would apply to his sentence.

Sciara will be on six months’ electronic house arrest after his release on March 29.

Mendez, 61, got four months in jail but had already served six months so he was free to go. He is on house arrest for two months and has supervised probation for three years.

Reeves, 50, got eight months in prison, but he has also been in jail since his arrest so he was allowed to leave. Reeves got four months house arrest and three years’ probation.

All three will pay court costs and can’t perform surgery or have surgical equipment as terms of their probation.
As a person who has seen firsthand how easy it is for ordinary people to buy 'official' equipment (uniforms, badges, etc) for non-authorized use, I can't even begin to conceive how the court plans on preventing these guys from purchasing surgical equipment. If they were doing these 'procedures' in a converted carport and had the evidence tucked away in a freezer, I don't think we have to worry about them buying proper operation tables and such. Getting their hands on much more-easily obtained scalpels and such is a far greater worry. But I digress...
The only witness called to testify during the 2 1/2 hour hearing and sentencing was Sciara’s brother, Anthony Sciara, a well-known Asheville clinical psychologist who has testified in other criminal cases.

He was there as a family member, not an expert.

Brother testifies on past

Sciara’s lawyer, Roy Patton, called him to talk about his brother’s past, his personality and his time in Vietnam as a Navy medical corpsman.

Anthony Sciara said his brother was different from other boys growing up but never violent. He said Sciara, from his time in Vietnam to his career as a physician’s assistant at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Topeka, Kan., has always tried to help other people.

Sciara learned how to perform castrations at the VA hospital, according to court testimony.
Okay, pause. I have worked in a few medical institutions that deal or have dealt with veterans and VA Hospitals on a large scale. As everyone who has ever dealt with the VA Hospital system knows, their clinics and hospitals are woefully underfunded and unfortunately our veterans have to wait for sometimes lesser than ideal care. This was known well before any of the Walter Reed Hospital scandal recently broke, too. However, that said, I have never heard nor read about physician assistants performing castrations on veterans anywhere. And back in my old stomping grounds of Kansas, too? It's not like the state is known for its liberal, 'anything goes' mentality...Kansas is the state that's the standard bearer in the evolution vs creationism debate in its schools. In fact, of all of the veteran patients I have known/currently know...or any men for that matter...the choice of castration is less desireable than death. As many women know, you can't get most men to willingly undergo a vasectomy unless there's a 'family' issue involved. If the above testimony is indeed true, how in the hell this guy 'learned how to perform castrations' at the VA hospital in Kansas (and theoretically on consenting, alive patients, too), I would love to know. And some government oversight committee needs to look into this, pronto.

(Ed note 3/26/2007: Well, okay I had not heard about these kinds of things going on, but apparently I've been woefully 'misinformed'. I have been heartily corrected by a reader who tells me studies of physical vs chemical castration do occur at VA institutions, and pointed to some medical articles such as this one as proof. Therefore, Sciara most likely could have gotten training in just such a procedure while working for the VA Hospital in Topeka. I stand corrected and heartily thank the reader for the update.)
Anthony Sciara said he accepted his brother’s gay lifestyle and even encouraged him to move to Western North Carolina with Mendez when he retired from the VA in 1999.

Sadomasochism interests

But he said he was disgusted with his brother’s interest in sadomasochism and body-modification surgery and stopped speaking to him in 2002 because of it.

In his defense, Anthony Sciara said his brother performed the surgeries only to help others.

“His concept of himself is he is a helpful person,” Anthony Sciara said.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Moore said Sciara and his assistants performed the operations in the nude, and on one occasion, Sciara was drinking a beer and smoking while castrating a man.

His lawyer, Patton, disputed the claim that Sciara was drinking while performing surgery.
Subtle overtones that this was combination party and/or almost 'religious' experience to those involved, to some degree how some ancient cultures offered up sacrifices of their victims (or parts of their victims). And I'm so glad that the 'drinking while on the job' issue thing was disputed, I'm sure that gave the patient/victim a sense of real security. Yow.
Voluntary body modifications

He said at least two of the men who visited the home were interested in extreme body modification.
Okay, when I first read the term 'extreme body modification' here, I was thinking like all-over body tattoos, branding, maybe one of those people who want to look like a cat or a leopard. Apparently I've lived a more sheltered life than I realised. Read on...
They wanted Sciara to amputate their legs above the knees and had already each cut a finger off with garden shears to show their love for one another.

Sciara would not perform the amputation, he said.
Now, not having been in the courtroom and not having access to the transcript, I can only guess that this tidbit of information was offered up by the clinical psychologist brother as a way to show that the main defendant has some sort of 'ethical code' regarding the surgeries he does agree to perform. I guess, anyway. That the 'wannabe surgeon' will perform castrations and some extreme body modifications, but not all??? I honestly don't know which sounds nuttier to me: the former VA employee who performs castrations in a cement carport/dungeon while nude and has 'standards' or the couple that love (and they have a much different view on 'love' than I do, I grant) each other so much that they voluntarily want to be hobbled (and presumably confined to wheelchairs) forevermore. "Boxing Helena", anyone?

This also makes me wonder, as the amateur journalist from days long gone by, as to what did not make it into this story if this little snippet did. Lord knows, this article has no shortage of 'hookable' material. To include this part about the 'surgery that was refused'...with no grounding as to why this was important to the testimony at all, leading me to the guesstimating above...makes me wonder what kind of story was initially considered by reporter and editor. At the risk of sounding unduly macabre, I would love to read the official transcript of this case. If Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's new movie, "Grindhouse" does any business at all (which it will, I suggest, because those two know 'how to give the people what they want'), you just know that this story could become the muse for their next installment. Continuing with the article...
The other men who had the procedures complained of testicular pain.

They included a computer programmer, a truck driver and an Army Reserve soldier, Patton said.

Some of the men had fake testicles called “nuteciles” implanted, and one had his penis removed entirely. Another man had the head of his penis cut off.

“(Sciara) felt like the medical system was not addressing the needs of this not-small group who had these needs, whether they were imagined or just emotional,” Patton said, likening the operations to abortions and breast enhancements.
The WR, although initially shocked by the details of this story when I first told him, was able to fill me on the 'nuteciles' background, or at least what we think they are approximating in this case. WR is a dog owner and also a dog expert given his current employment...we think it's similar to this for dogs, but just modified in some fashion for men. And speaking of men, I'm not even one but that last procedure made me wince and cower in sympathetic pain. One can only hope that all of these patients/victims were heavily anesthesized in some fashion, if not completely unconscious, when these 'procedures' were performed.

As far as the comparison to abortions (the surgical removal of a developing fetus...I do not get into that highly-charged issue here) and the breast implants (the surgical enhancement of breast tissue, some folks would argue to attract/appease the opposite sex and/or our 'breast obsessed' culture), all I can say is I don't think either holds water. Again, it could be the crowd that I hang out with (which includes straights, gays, bisexuals, 'wait until marriage' virgins, one-night stand champions, divorcees, what seems like an endless string of 'happily marrieds with children', a widower, two swinger couples, a transgender wannabe and probably a few other things in between I don't even know), but I've yet to meet up with someone who is willing to take such dangerous risks (especially infection) for the sake of making themselves feel better about their own bodies. Plenty of people hate certain elements of their body, sure, and for those men who change gender, obviously some sort of surgery is in order to complete the process totally. However, there's a huge difference between sexual reassignment surgery and castration. The fact that none of these patients/victims wanted to prosecute the 'wannabe surgeon' doesn't necessarily surprise me; if the patients/victims don't suffer significant emotional, physiological, and infection problems as a result of these 'procedures' frankly will.
The attorneys for the three asked the judge to consider Sciara’s medical experience and that the law doesn’t allow for consent as a defense to the crime.

They asked Winner to sentence the men in a range that would have meant credit for time served and a less restrictive probation.

No other criminal records

They brought up Sciara’s and Mendez’s military record. Mendez got a Bronze Star in Vietnam for carrying a wounded soldier to safety under fire.

None of the men had prior criminal records.

If the men had prior criminal histories and the state had been able to prove more aggravating factors in the case, they could have faced several years in prison.

Bill Leslie, Reeves’ lawyer, said his client was happy with the outcome.

“The judge did the right thing, and my client is walking out of jail today, so he’s happy,” Leslie said.

Patton said the men plan to start their life together again once Sciara is released. They will have to stay in North Carolina for now because of the probation.
I pass no judgments on the S&M elements or even necessarily the 'free will' elements of this case, but as a medical professional I worry that this kind of case and subsequent sentencing will only lead to 'copycats' and perhaps some with absolutely no medical training whatsoever. At least one of these men needs some psychological counseling and some kind of sentencing away from the public at large. The fact that the State had no victim willing to press charges doesn't exactly speak well for the state of mind of some of the patients/victims even now. And, as such, you just have to wonder, really wonder if not outright worry, if the probation given in this case (as limited as it was) doesn't work...I see no mention of mental counseling or hospitalization in the article...just where these three will show up next.

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