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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

I’ve been thinking, again, about the way people cling to discredited beliefs. Sometimes, I wonder how the human race has ever managed to make any progress at all. The willingness of what can seem to be the overwhelming majority of people to cling to set beliefs in spite of clear indications that those beliefs are wrong must, surely, have retarded human progress.

On a smaller scale, it has, certainly, cost lives. The first investigation into Dr. Harold Shipman concluded there was no truth to the notion that he was a murderer based, largely, on the fact that he was doctor and, therefore, could not be a murderer.

I suppose this tendency to stick to current belief does have its use. If every new idea were adopted without question we’d be in a much bigger mess. So the question is whether the right balance is being struck in deciding what events or experiences or new evidence should lead us to revise our views.

seeds of Ricinus Communis, castor oil plant

What has brought me back to this topic, again, is the latest news about the Utah woman I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. An unnamed woman from North Logan in Utah was admitted to hospital after apparently eating 30 crushed castor beans, the seeds of Ricinus Communis, castor oil plant. The story I linked to in that piece made no mention of any symptoms and I noted that it said the hospital ‘considered’ her condition to be critical rather than that it was critical.

I’ve now realised that the linked item was a follow-up and that the same newspaper had previously reported that ‘The North Logan woman was nauseated and vomiting’ exactly the response I would have expected.

The reason I’m returning to the story is that ‘The Herald Journal’, a local paper in the Logan area of Utah has reported that the woman has been released from hospital and is in the care of her family. Actually, her release from hospital is not what prompted the story. The important news, it seems, is the decision that she will not be prosecuted for production and possession of ricin.

Ricinus Communis, castor oil plant

For me, it is no surprise that she has recovered, physically at least, and that there were no serious consequences from the ingestion. It would be nice to think that this incident might lead people to question their beliefs about ricin and ask how she suffered so little harm given all the stories about how toxic ricin is and how little is required to be fatal.

I may be being premature. I think it is quite likely that, eventually, some learned journal will carry a case study report detailing much more fully what happened and seeking to understand why this woman is still alive. Who knows, such a paper might even conclude that ricin is not the complete monster that it is regularly reported to be.

For now, in the absence of such a scientific evaluation or any comment from the doctors who treated her, we can only go by the explanation offered by North Park Police Chief Kim Hawkes who said, “She’s kind of our miracle girl”.

So, rather than question current belief and look for a rational explanation of this incident an educated police chief prefers to go with ‘It’s a miracle’.


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