Dr. Melvin Morse, former University of Washington associate professor of pediatrics who is internationally known for his research into near-death experiences, was arrested Tuesday for "waterboarding" his 11-year-old daughter.
DOVER, Del. — A former associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington who is internationally known for his research into near-death experiences has been charged with endangering the life of his 11-year-old daughter, who told investigators she was subjected to waterboarding.
Dr. Melvin Morse, and his wife, Pauline, were charged with several felony counts Tuesday in Delaware, after their 11-year-old daughter told investigators her father had subjected her to “waterboarding” several times by holding her face under a running faucet.
Waterboarding simulates drowning and it has been used by U.S. interrogators on terrorism suspects. Many critics call it torture.
Acting upon a complaint by the Delaware attorney general’s office, officials Thursday ordered the emergency suspension of Morse’s medical license.
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Morse, who has written several books on children and near-death experiences, has appeared on numerous TV shows including “Oprah,” “Larry King Live,” “20/20” and “Good Morning America” to talk about his research, which also has been featured on “Unsolved Mysteries” and in “Rolling Stone” magazine.
Morse’s website, spiritualscientific.com, is strewn with ramblings about God, love, family and death.
At the time of Tuesday’s arrest, Morse, 58, was out on bail on misdemeanor charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Those charges stemmed from a July incident in which authorities allege Morse grabbed the 11-year-old by the ankle and, as her 6-year-old sister watched, dragged her across a gravel driveway, took her into the family home in Georgetown, Sussex County, and began spanking her.
When she was interviewed again Monday, the older girl told investigators that beginning in 2009, her father had disciplined her by what he told her was “waterboarding.” Delaware State Police said the girl was subjected to such punishment at least four times and that her mother witnessed some of the incidents but did not stop them.
Police could not say if Morse’s punishments had been conducted as experiments on his daughter.
Joe Hurley, an attorney representing Morse on charges stemming from the driveway incident, cast doubt on some of the latest accusations. “Whatever’s being described is not waterboarding,” said Hurley. “I think that’s an attention-getter.”
Hurley said the 11-year-old has some “opposition issues” and had complained to her parents several years ago about being abused by a half-sibling. He said the parents contacted authorities and the half-sibling was arrested, but the girl confessed later that the incident never happened and that she just didn’t want the half-sibling living in the house.
Melvin Morse was being held Thursday on $14,500 secured bail. His wife was released previously on $14,500 unsecured bail. Both were ordered to have no contact with their two daughters or with each other. They face a preliminary hearing Aug. 16.
On the same day he was arrested on child-endangerment charges July 13, Morse also was charged with terroristic threatening after allegedly threatening in May to kill a 65-year-old man. Hurley said he was told by a deputy attorney general that the terroristic-threatening charge, which prosecutors dropped a week after it was filed, involved a New Castle County attorney. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office declined to comment.
Morse’s studies of near-death experiences in children resulted in several books, including “Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near Death Experiences of Children.” He also had a pediatric practice in Renton before heading to Delaware.
In Morse’s book, he writes that his interest in near-death experiences developed after meeting a girl who had been discovered at the bottom of an Idaho YMCA swimming pool. The girl, who recovered from nearly drowning, said she had met God during the incident and drew pictures of people she met while in “heaven.”
He later organized a study at Seattle Children’s hospital of 26 children who reported they had “nearly died” and claimed 23 of the 26 had told him they had near-death experiences.
According to his website, Morse received a medical degree from George Washington University in 1980 and worked in California, Idaho and Washington before moving to Delaware.
Morse’s medical license in Washington state expired in December 2007, the same year he was granted a license in Delaware. An online check of licensing records found no indication that Morse has been the subject of professional disciplinary action in Washington or Delaware.
On his website, Morse claims to be on the teaching staff at the School of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. A spokesman for Penn said the school had no record of him teaching there.
On his website, Morse also describes his struggles with legal and family problems stemming from his first marriage and how he was told by an imaginary falcon to move “quickly in the dark of night” to the East Coast, where his destiny lay and where he could find rich soil for his “BIG IDEA” to grow. He does not describe his “BIG IDEA” but says it took him years to think about and write.
Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.