1976 – Anneliese Michel dies of malnutrition

It’s apalling to think that things like this can still happen: that the combination of religious hysteria and medical mis-diagnosis can still have such dire effects, but even today, the series of events that led to the death of Anneliese Michel could still happen in most Western democracies.

When Anneliese Michel was 16, she had her first epileptic attack. Afterwards, she developed depression, and, as the years went by, began hearing voices, and became suicidal and intolerant of religious objects. It was this last that convinced the self-appointed experts in exorcism that her symptoms were actually those of possession. After a time, even Anneliese agreed with the diagnosis, and petitioned to be exoricsed.

Her death, after months of useless ritual, came from malnutrition and dehydration, and led to a huge public outcry. Her parents and the two priests who had performed the exorcisms were all charged with negligent homicide, and all were convicted of manslaughter. The priests claimed the exorcism as a success, saying that all six of the demons who allegedly possessed Anneliese Michel (including Nero, Adolf Hitler, Judas Iscariot and less famous demons) were banished before her death. In the wake of the case, the Catholic Church tightened both the criteria and the oversight of exorcisms, having belatedly realised that the medieval era was over.

Referenced in:

Annalisa — Public Image Limited