This article was taken from W.I.G Mag
Does Pennyroyal Kill?
(Based on the research and story from Gordon Young on "Lifestyle on Trial," which ran in San Jose's Metro December 14, 1995) According to CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, pennyroyal "possess a strong odor resembling that of spearmint, but less agreeable." It is a thin, tall plant that produces clusters of lavender flowers. And although the herb has been used as an abortifacient since 421 BC in ancient Egyptian times, it wasn't until 1994, perhaps due to Nirvana's song "Pennyroyal Tea," that made the herb a household symbol as an alternative to clinical abortion. But what does it kill?
Kris Humphrey's lawyer and parents think it's what killed their daughter. For Kris, who was a sociology major, environmentalist, and homeopathic believer, traditional medicine was not a part of her philosophy toward life. Her stepbrother had died from an allergic reaction to painkillers after breaking three vertebrae in is neck. A year earlier, a clinical abortion caused her much pain and the indifference of the clinical workers convinced Kris to seek out a more natural, homeopathic approaches to sickness in the future, or if she were ever to get pregnant again. She did.
Unfortunately, Kris, didn't know she had an ectopic, or tubal, pregnancy when she began taking pennyroyal. But according to gynecologist Dr. Phillip Warner, it is not a standard procedure to for doctors to check for an ectopic pregnancy. "The antipathy Kris and her friends held for traditional medicine caused them to ignore obvious danger signals, especially during the last few days of Kris' life," says Young in the Metro. According to a friend, Kris "was getting signs from her body [after taking the pennyroyal], but didn't think anything was serious."
Five to eight days later (no one's quite sure long she had been taking the herb), she began vomiting, sweating, and had chills and cramps. She took a bath, but suffered a seizure in the tub and had to be carried out. Her friends had her in the kitchen, trying CPR, when they decided to call 911. Paramedics managed to get Kris' heart beating again and she was put on a ventilator at San Jose Medical Center soon after.
Ironically, according to the Metro article, Dr. Reema Jalali who was the chief resident and put on her case when Kris arrived, didn't know what pennyroyal even was. "We called poison control. We looked it up and found out what it is and how it is used." According to Jalali, Kris was bleeding from everywhere-even the places where she had been pierced such as her nose, her mouth, her brow, and her labia. Her bloated stomach indicated a bleeding ectopic pregnancy. Convinced they had to remove the ectopic pregnancy, despite her weak condition, doctors operated. "If she hadn't taken pennyroyal, the bleeding wouldn't have been as bad and she wouldn't have gone into shock," says Jalali. But the damage was irreversible. Kris' parents gave permission to turn off the life-support systems on August 14, 1994. She died at the age of 24.
Less than a week later, personal injury attorney Allen Fleishman filed suit on behalf of Kris' parent, Mike and Embee Humphrey charging Gaia Herbs, the pennyroyal manufacturer, and Bread of Life the Campbell store where Kris allegedly purchased the herbs, with negligence, product liability, and wrongful death. Their lawsuit hinges on whether Kris died from an ectopic pregnancy, or if pennyroyal contributed to the cause of her death. Each team has medical experts working to prove their point.
Meanwhile, Susan Weed, author of Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, who's recipe for an herbal abortion may be what Kris used, says that "there's not a single recorded case of death or injury from taking any form of pennyroyal except the essential oil." She reminds us of the Colorado woman who died in 1978 from consuming highly concentrated amounts of pennyroyal oil. There's a major difference. Just as there is between the two philosophies of thought: that of taking control for yourself or leaving it up to the medical establishment. As Fleishman points out in the Metro article, " There is an underground belief that says, 'Don't listen to the establishment, go right ahead and use pennyroyal for an abortion.' Many people who use it may actually abort and then stop taking the pennyroyal. But in Kris Humphrey's situation, there was no end. She was [waiting] for an abortion that [would] never happen because it was an ectopic pregnancy. Pennyroyal is a very lethal drug that's sold as an herb and it should have a warning label."
Even with one, it won't bring back Kris. According to Embee, Kris "believed that to live on this earth you had to take responsibility for it." That included taking responsibility for yourself as well. But was her death a case of "lack of responsibility?" And on who's part? You could say the responsibility for who's fault now lies with the medical and judicial establishments to decide. Or you could take on Kris' philosophy: that as a human on this earth, no matter what, it's ultimately up to you.-K.G.