Sheila Cassidy (born 18 August 1937) is an English doctor, known for her work in the hospice movement, as a writer and as someone who, by publicising her own history as a torture survivor, drew attention to human rights abuse in Chile in the 1970s.
Born in Cranwell, Lincolnshire, in 1937, Cassidy grew up in Sydney and attended the Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. She began her medical studies at the University of Sydney and completed them at Oxford University in 1963. She wanted to become a plastic surgeon but could not keep up with the 90-hour week, so she went to practise medicine in Chile during the government of Salvador Allende.
Torture and escape
In 1975, Cassidy was caught up in the violence of the Pinochet regime. She gave medical care to Nelson Gutierrez, a political opponent of the new regime who was being sought by the police. As a result, she was herself arrested on 1 November 1975 by the Chilean secret police, the DINA, and kept in custody without trial. During the early part of her custody, she was severely tortured in the notorious Villa Grimaldi near Santiago, Chile, in order to force her to disclose information about her patient and her other contacts.
Later in 1975, Cassidy was released from custody and returned to the UK with the assistance of the British government and Roberto Kozak. Her subsequent description of her experiences, including her account of her torture on the parrilla and her imprisonment, did much to bring to the attention of the UK public the widespread human rights abuses that were occurring at the time in Chile. Her story appeared in news media and in her book, Audacity to Believe.
After a period of recovery from the physical and psychological effects of her ordeal (during which she briefly became a nun), Cassidy continued to practice as a doctor. In 1982 she became Medical Director of the new St Luke's Hospice in Plymouth, a position which she held for 15 years. She then went on to set up a palliative care service for the Plymouth hospitals.
Cassidy has written a number of books on Christian subjects and has been involved with a number of charitable organisations such as patronage of The Prison Phoenix Trust. In her book Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic she outlines her reasons that caused her to withdraw her allegiance from the Catholic Church.
Sheila Cassidy now has a Form named after her in St Joseph's Catholic & Anglican High School, Wrexham.
- "Birthdays". The Guardian. Guardian New & Media. 18 Aug 2014. p. 27.
- "Chile holds doctor from Britain". The Times (59546). London. 6 November 1975. p. 1.
- Fisk, Robert (31 December 1975). "Mr Callaghan recalls Chile ambassador over electric shock torture of Dr Cassidy". The Times (59590). London. p. 1.
- "Dr Cassidy describes electric shock torture and prison 'sex house'". The Times (59606). London. 20 January 1976. p. 7.
- Cassidy, Sheila (1977). Audacity To Believe, Collins, London. ISBN 0-00-211858-0.