Near-Death Experience Expert Arrested for Torture

arrested pediatrician
(Image credit: Delaware State Police)

A Delaware pediatrician and author of several books about children's near-death experiences has been arrested, accused of repeatedly torturing his 11-year-old daughter. Dr. Melvin Morse and his wife Pauline face felony abuse charges in connection with one of their two daughters.

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According to a Fox News story,

Dr. Morse was initially arrested after police received reports he had grabbed his 11-year-old by her ankle and dragged her across a gravel driveway July 12. The girl then told detectives that over a two-year period she was disciplined by her father using a method he called "waterboarding." She alleged her father, on at least four occasions, held her face under a running faucet, causing the water to go up her nose and all over her face.

According to his bio on a near-death experience Web site, Morse is (or was) an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington who has studied near-death experiences (NDEs) in children for 15 years and author of several books on the topic including "Closer to the Light," "Transformed by the Light," and "Where God Lives."

Morse has appeared as a NDE expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, 20/20, and other media. Morse believes "that the study of NDEs provides a starting point for understanding the mysterious link between our brains and the universe" and that "the stories that children have told him about what it is like to die have lessons for all of us." He became interested in NDEs after a child who recovered from nearly dying told him, "Don't worry, Dr. Morse, heaven is fun!"

A reason for the crime has not been revealed, but details of the allegations suggest a chilling motive: Morse may have been trying to torture his daughter into her own near-death experience.

News reports have focused on the allegation of Morse's waterboarding as torture -- which it certainly is -- but it may have simply a means to an end: not to punish his daughter for bad behavior, but instead to deprive her of oxygen without killing her.

A DelawareOnline news report offered more details surrounding the case:

The daughter told police she "could never understand what she did to be punished" and felt scared, court documents reported. Once, she said, her father told her he "was going to wrap her in a blanket and do it so that she could not move." In another instance, she said Melvin Morse told her that "she could go five minutes without brain damage." "Melvin would sometimes look away while he did it and (redacted) would become afraid that he would lose track of time and she would die," police wrote in court documents.... After her father did these things, the girl said she would "go outside and cry," prompting Melvin Morse to come outside and then "hold her nose and mouth with his hand," police said in court records. "He would not let go until she lost feeling and collapsed to the ground."

Details like these suggest that that Morse was attempting to induce oxygen deprivation in his daughter, which is a common mechanism for creating near-death experiences.

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Researcher Susan Blackmore, author of "Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences," notes that many NDEs (such as euphoria and the feeling of moving toward a tunnel of white light) are common symptoms of oxygen deprivation in the brain.

A 2011 article published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that "contrary to popular belief, research suggests that there is nothing paranormal about these experiences. Instead, near-death experiences are the manifestation of normal brain function gone awry, during a traumatic, and sometimes harmless, event."

Was Morse trying to understand "the mysterious link between our brains and the universe" by repeatedly nearly drowning his own child? If so, it's a dangerous and unethical experiment. Some trauma victims come back from brain injury and oxygen deprivation reporting near-death experiences; others never recover and die; and still others live with severe brain damage.

Regardless of whether the purpose was to torture or induce a near-death experience his daughter, the Morses each face two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a second-degree felony conspiracy charge, and four counts of felony first-degree reckless endangering.

This story was provided by Discovery News.

Benjamin Radford
Live Science Contributor
Benjamin Radford is the Bad Science columnist for Live Science. He covers pseudoscience, psychology, urban legends and the science behind "unexplained" or mysterious phenomenon. Ben has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and has written, edited or contributed to more than 20 books, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries," "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" and “Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits,” out in fall 2017. His website is