- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

DOVER, Del. — To many people, Dr. Melvin L. Morse was a brilliant pediatrician at a renowned children’s hospital and a best-selling author who parlayed his research on near-death experiences into appearances on “Larry King Live” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Away from the spotlight, however, Dr. Morse was tormented by personal and financial problems and, according to court records, wrestled with depression, substance abuse and even suicidal thoughts. His latest trouble involves accusations of waterboarding his 11-year-old stepdaughter, using the simulated drowning technique to bring her to “a possible near-death state,” police have said.

Based on his work involving children’s near-death experiences, police suggested he may have been experimenting on her.

Dr. Morse, 58, was accused in July of grabbing his daughter by the ankle and dragging her across a gravel driveway. When police did a follow-up interview last week, the girl said Dr. Morse had held her face under running water at least four times since 2009, using faucets in the kitchen, bathroom sink and bathtub.

Mother Pauline Morse witnessed some of the waterboarding, but did nothing to stop it, police said. Both parents are free on bail. They face a preliminary hearing Thursday on felony endangerment and conspiracy charges.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Morse called the charges an overreaction by authorities. An attorney for Dr. Morse, Joe Hurley, said the idea that his client was experimenting on his own daughter was “the sheerest of speculation.”

Dr. Morse began researching near-death experiences in children about three decades ago after the near drowning of one of his patients. He was fascinated by the spiritual experiences the girl, and other children, described to him, including images of light, heaven and tunnels.

He sought to prove that drugs were causing the hallucinations, though he said his research proved otherwise. In 1990, he published “Closer to the Light,” which spent several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. He was featured in a Rolling Stone magazine story, and television shows had him on to speak about paranormal experiences.

Dr. Morse has published several books over the years, and his writings include a quasi-autobiographical story, in which he describes how an imaginary falcon told him 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 told the AP his “big idea” involved a theory of consciousness based on his study of children who have suffered cardiac arrest.

“These children made it clear that consciousness persists despite having dying, dysfunctional brains,” he said. The theory is that brains are linked to “a non-local consciousness and a timeless, spaceless reality,” which Dr. Morse calls the “God Spot.”