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CAMHS Employee Said Not Consulted for ‘Care Contract’ in Wrongful Death Trial Over 2015 Student Suicide

Catherine R. Shapiro, Senior Resident Dean, testifies on the third day of the trial. David W. Abramson, a Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee, said he was not consulted on Luke Z. Tang '18's wellbeing.
Catherine R. Shapiro, Senior Resident Dean, testifies on the third day of the trial. David W. Abramson, a Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee, said he was not consulted on Luke Z. Tang '18's wellbeing. By Joyce E. Kim
By Joyce E. Kim and William C. Mao, Crimson Staff Writers

David W. Abramson, a Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee, said that despite being listed on a “care contract” with Luke Z. Tang ’18, an undergraduate student who died by suicide in 2015, he was never consulted about Tang’s wellbeing.

Abramson’s testimony on Thursday came during the third day of the wrongful death trial against CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop. Lawyers for Tang’s estate called on three other witnesses in addition to Abramson to testify on Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed in 2018 by Tang’s father, alleges that Northrop was negligent in her care for Tang as the point person for coordinating his mental health treatment and resources. Attorneys on both sides of the case presented their opening arguments during the first day of the trial on Tuesday.

Tang was admitted to McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. for a week after he attempted suicide in April 2015. On May 1, following Tang’s discharge, he met with Catherine Shapiro, his freshman resident dean. At the meeting, Tang entered into a care contract with the College.

Care contracts are used by the College to condition a student’s continued residence or enrollment on their participation in “counseling or other medical treatment” when the student “does not voluntarily seek help to ameliorate them,” according to the College’s student handbook.

Shapiro was also initially accused of negligence in the lawsuit, but a judge dismissed the claims against her. Shapiro testified on Thursday and said she helped adapt a “boilerplate” text to draft the contract that Luke signed in consultation with Northrop and Abramson, who are both listed in the contract.

Abramson, however, denied being consulted about the contract and said he had not known about Tang until after his death in September 2015.

The care contract stipulated that when Tang felt “distressed,” he would turn immediately to healthcare professionals.

“If you feel distressed or if you feel any inclination to harm yourself, you will not rely on friends or clergy, and you will instead take your concerns immediately to HUHS Urgent Care or to the Cambridge City Hospital,” the contract stated.

Shapiro said this agreement had been specific to Tang and custom-added to his contract.

During an expert witness testimony on Wednesday, the second day of the trial, licensed clinical social worker Alex Redcay criticized the contract — especially the line barring Tang from consulting friends, saying it took away “the greatest support people can have” and calling the contract “punitive.”

Tang attempted to change the contract during his meeting with Shapiro, according to the suit. In a copy of the contract submitted as evidence during the trial, Tang left several annotations, including strikethroughs of the words “you will not rely on friends or clergy,” “instead,” and “immediately.”

The terms of the contract were non-negotiable, according to the suit.

Shapiro said the care contract is designed to “support a student to be healthy and to be a student at the College.”

“Our students for the most part want to be here, want to be at Harvard,” Shapiro added. “The contract is centering health within the context of being enrolled or in residence.”

Lydia Y. Cho, a psychologist at McLean Hospital who conducted a neuropsychiatric test on Tang for his discharge report, also testified Thursday. Cho, who claimed to have no recollection of Tang, clarified her psychological evaluation of him and the recommendations she offered for Tang’s future treatment.

Northrop’s attorneys also cross-examined Vanessa M. Cuthbert, a clinical social worker at McLean Hospital who served as Tang’s case manager during his stay. Cuthbert responded to questions about her clinical summary of Tang and her discussion with him about receiving therapy.

“We couldn’t legally force him against his will to go to therapy,” Cuthbert said. “It was our recommendation — what we believed would help him.”

“It seemed Harvard's recommendation was that he see an outpatient therapist before coming back to Harvard,” she added. “At the same time, I think it’s fair for him to know just because Harvard wants him to see a therapist, he doesn’t have to, but there might be consequences with going back to school.”

If you or someone you know needs help at Harvard, contact Counseling and Mental Health Services at (617) 495-2042 or the Harvard University Police Department at (617) 495-1212. Several peer counseling groups offer confidential peer conversations. Learn more here.

You can contact a University Chaplain to speak one-on-one at or here.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at Follow him on X @williamcmao.

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