More Questions Raised in Death of Congressman's Wife

Experts doubt coroner's finding that white mulberry contributed to Lori McClintock's death
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2022 9:15 AM CDT
More Questions Raised in Death of Congressman's Wife
State Sen. Tom McClintock, the Republican candidate for the 4th Congressional District, and his wife, Lori, left, smile as they watch election returns are posted at his election night party in Roseville, Calif., Nov. 4, 2008.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Experts are continuing to question a coroner's conclusion that the wife of a congressman died as a result of ingesting the nontoxic white mulberry plant, used for centuries as an herbal remedy and described by one expert as "probably one of the safest leaves in the world." Lori McClintock, the wife of GOP California Rep. Tom McClintock, died in December from dehydration due to an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by "adverse effects of white mulberry leaf ingestion," according to a March report from Sacramento County Coroner Kimberly Gin. The report notes a "partially intact" white mulberry leaf was found in the stomach of the 61-year-old, who'd complained of stomach issues the day before her death.

But as Connecticut's chief medical examiner, Dr. James Gill, tells Kaiser Health News, the single white mulberry leaf wouldn't have contributed to the death, as it was consumed only hours before. Death from dehydration, he adds, generally takes days. Documents released by the office of the coroner, who has refused to comment, do not indicate whether more white mulberry was found in the McClintock home, where Lori McClintock was found unresponsive on Dec. 15. But "it would take literally bushel baskets of white mulberry leaves to cause some type of untoward effect. And even then, you don't see anything lethal," Bill Gurley, principal scientist at the University of Mississippi's National Center for Natural Products Research, tells KHN. "Its track record for safety is unsurpassed."

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has no record of deaths linked to the plant in the past decade. A 2011 study found 6 of 23 patients given white mulberry leaf experienced mild diarrhea, per Healthline. But KHN reports just two cases of illness have been reported to the FDA in the past two decades. "Looking at her autopsy results," there are signs of dehydration, but the cause of death is "not obvious," says Dr. Gregory G. Davis, the chief coroner-medical examiner for Alabama’s Jefferson County. In a December letter released by the coroner's office, Alison Colwell, curator of the University of California-Davis Center for Plant Diversity, identifies the leaf fragment as the "not toxic" white mulberry plant. But as she didn't give details on her identification, some are questioning whether she was wrong. (Read more mysterious death stories.)

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