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Another case of religion-inspired child neglect

Here we go again with yet another case of religion-inspired child neglect in which lack of medical care led to the death of a child. This time, however, the authorities actually appear to be ready to bring the hammer down on the parents.

Yesterday was a weird day. Things just sort of went south in a way that I didn’t get the opportunity to lay down the usual 2,000+ words of that Insolence, either Respectful or not-so-Respectful, that you crave. Part of it was that I fell asleep on the couch at far too early an hour, but I figure that was just my body trying to tell me something. However, because I fell asleep too early, I also got up a little earlier than usual, which led me to this story in the Washington Post. It’s a sad, sad tale that we’ve heard before, this time involving a Michigan couple, Seth Welch and his wife Tatiana Fusari. More importantly, it involves religion-inspired child neglect that led to the death of their 10-month-old daughter Mary:

Although the circumstances surrounding the baby’s death remain unclear, the couple were charged Monday with felony murder and first-degree child abuse after their nearly 10-month-old daughter, Mary, was found dead in her crib from malnutrition and dehydration, according to court records cited by NBC affiliate WOOD.

The parents, both age 27, told police that they had known for at least a month that their daughter seemed underweight, and Fusari acknowledged that they declined to seek help “for fear of having her children removed by Child Protective Services, lack of faith and trust in the medical services and religious reasons,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the station.

Hours after the death, Seth Welch posted this on Facebook:

The parents’ motivations? Welch made no secret of them on Facebook:

A sampling from here and elsewhere:

At the home, Seth Welch displayed his faith on handpainted signs nailed to trees and on the fence out front. “Repent. Believe. Obey,” one message painted in white reads.

CPS, their distrust of doctors and their religious beliefs have been topics of some of Seth Welch’s rambling videos on Facebook.

On doctors: “They’re priesthoods of the medical cult,” he said.

On vaccines: “The righteous shall live by faith. It’s God who is sovereign over disease and those sorts of things and, of course, ultimately deaths.”

He says someone called CPS about him when he at first refused to get his oldest daughter vaccinated, and that he didn’t get his other two kids, including Mary, vaccinated.

“It didn’t seem smart that you would be saving people who weren’t the fittest,” he said in one video. “If evolution believes in survival of the fittest, why are we vaccinating everybody? Shouldn’t we just let the weak die off and let the strong survive?”

I hate this particular antivaccine trope. Not only does it betray a lack of understanding of evolution, but it is downright cruel and evil. First, it is not the “strong” who survive and reproduce; it is the fittest, which means nothing more than the combination of traits that makes an organism most likely to survive in the environment in which it lives. Those traits might or might not include “strength.” Of course, it’s rather interesting to see a Christian fundamentalist cite a social Darwinist misunderstanding of evolution as his justification for not vaccinating and not seeking medical care. Of course, this rationale pops up only 2 minutes into the video, and Welch prefaces it by saying, “Because I believed in evolution at the time.” He then added after that, “I was in favor of that,” the “that” being to let the “weak” die off.

Which is, apparently, he did. It was child neglect, pure and simple.

It’s quite striking, though, how he claims to have come to his antivaccine views (and he calls them that) through reason before he came to them through faith. He then goes on to cite a whole bunch of very unreasonable, non-science-based reasons why he is antivaccine. For instance, he pulls out the “vaccines didn’t save us” trope, an oldie and moldy. He goes on about how he runs a farm and has had hundreds of birds, but has never seen any of them get sick “even when we had the bird flu.” He refers to the arrogance of man and how vaccines have become “idols” by which man futilely tries to ensure his survival apart from God. I could go on, but I don’t have time; I have to get to work.

I will, however, point out one thing that is a bit different about this case:

Seth Welch’s jaw dropped when a Kent County judge informed him on Monday the charges of first degree child abuse and murder held a possible life sentence.

Welch called police on Aug. 2 saying he had found his 10-month-old daughter dead in her crib at the family’s Cedar Springs home, according to court records. The responding officer noted in his police report that Mary Anne Welch’s cheeks and eyes were “sunken into her head.”

Welch, 27, and his wife who is also Mary’s mother, Tatiana Fusari, 27, were brought in for questioning where they admitted to noticing their daughter’s skinny appearance as early as a month prior.

There’s video in the link there

Note the look of shock that came over the couple’s faces as the charges were read and told that they were facing potentially life in prison without parole. Of course, the couple has two other children.

I have to admit, I was surprised. In all the years I’ve been covering cases like this on the blog, I don’t recall ever seeing charges so serious filed against the parents. Nine times out of ten the parents get off with a slap on the wrist. Sometimes they go on to let another child die from lack of medical care. Believe it or not, I’m torn over whether life in prison is too harsh a penalty for these people, but I’m certainly happy to see the local prosecutor actually taking this case much more seriously and not falling for the usual justification used to recommend probation that the other children shouldn’t have their parents taken away because of child neglect leading to the death of one of their siblings.

At least on this case, a child who suffered horribly for at least a month has not been forgotten.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

54 replies on “Another case of religion-inspired child neglect”

Poor baby. And he is incredibly blatant in accepting the possibility of his children dying from preventable diseases if they don’t measure up to the standard you show so well is based on a misunderstanding.

Don’t worry Orac, I’m sure a jury of their peers will feel so sorry for all the pain and anguish they have gone through in the court case will acquit them. After all, the death of a child through gross negligence is part of “God’s plan”, and who are they to dispute God. The optimist in me hopes that they are both convicted and their other children re-homed with someone who has a clue, and can help them overcome the seriously screwed up beginning they had in life.

Totally off-topic, but really cool: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-45114842 Noro and Roto viruses grouping up and hiding behind a fatty shell to infect people more effectively. A shame that BBC couldn’t link to the actual paper, but an interesting read none-the-less.

If it were not religion, they’d have found something else – maybe Breatharianism. Who knows? Those who want an excuse to behave badly, will always find one. I have been a Christian all my life, and nowhere did I learn that starving children was the way to live my life. The kindest explanation is that these people are mentally ill, but I suspect with the tone of the signs, he’s just a nasty bully who enjoys making people suffer.

They should be in prison and away from children, but I fear that will not happen.

@Ellie

I think he’s just very, very mentally impaired–see link. What’s a bully anyway, but someone who is mentally unstable? I hate so sound Orwellian, but I don’t see prison accomplishing much. He, the mother, and their ilk, need to be “re-educated” (whilst imprisoned if you will). If they bought this rubbish, they might can be taught some actual facts–although the underlying “mental” issues need to be resolved as well.

It seems overly simplistic to simply call these people “evil” and lock them up. We need to find a way to stop revering religious “freedom” to the point of tolerating this kind of result.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperreligiosity

I think he’s just very, very mentally impaired–see link.

I don really think so. I’ve been hyperreligious before during manic episodes, especially when psychosis was involved. He seems to be in possession of his faculties, honestly, just very authoritarian and obsessed with his version of religion (which tons of people are.)

Being hyperreligious in the psychiatric sense (I’ve also been around other people in that state) is usually more like being preoccupied with saints and mystics and prophets and so on and identifying with them, maybe having visions, spouting prophecy, that kind of thing.

Most Christians I’ve met put a great deal of weight on the Golden Rule. Whether I agree with what the religion says or not, these people usually treat the people around them very well. This act (and that of the Turpins, which I understood to be religious as well) hardly seems like what Christians I’ve routinely known will do.

Awful.
Whilst neglecting Mary, Seth and Tatiana did not appear to have missed many meals.( Everyone’s thinking it, someone might as well say it.)

I too am surprised by the charges.

Denice, this observation was one of the first I noted in WaPo’s comment threads when the article came out yesterday.

I was tempted to forward it to Orac, but since this happened in Michigan I figured he’d see it soon enough.

Well, jail health care is not very good, so if not getting modern medicine is what they wanted, they will get their wish.

They were organic farmers, and quite successful at it. They sold produce to hospitals.

It’s not clear whether they were underfeeding her. She was sick for a long time and did not get medical care. When that creep’s jaw drops it obvious that he’s that he’s so much better than the masses that he couldn’t possibly have done something wrong by following his ego.

I read about this yesterday. Tears literally came to my eyes as I read it; I couldn’t help but think of my six month old daughter and to try to fathom doing such a thing to her. I couldn’t. It is so completely pointless. Hopefully, they will be convicted and have the fullest extent of the punishment imposed.

Orac writes,

It was child neglect, pure and simple.

MJD says,

In a article from Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics (2015) titled, Vaccinations in prisons: A shot in the arm for community health, the researchers concluded, “Therefore, ideally, vaccination of prisoners should not be automatic, but should be integrated into an approach that shows respect for people and their rights”.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4685700/

Q. If Seth Welch goes to prison for child neglect, would you (i.e., Orac) recommend forced vaccinations for this anti-vaxxer.

Please advise.

You’ve distorted the conclusions. You left out a couple of sentences prior to your cherry picked quote, which I include below:

“It is debatable whether offering vaccination immediately upon imprisonment is the best strategy, since the psychological burden felt by new inmates might not provide the optimum frame of mind, could be an obstacle to compliance with the recommended immunization schedule, and might lead to rejection of the first dose or result in incomplete vaccination. Prisoners may be less likely to reject vaccination if this is offered within an integrated health care policy.”

I worked as a correctional nurse for 3 years. Prisons can and will force some kinds of health care, specifically a health screening on intake that may include labs and will include a PPD or chest X-ray. Refusal means isolation from others until you comply: no chapel, no commissary, no day room, no visitation, no library, no yard, no gym. 23 hour lockdown, with 1 hour for a shower in isolation.

Most inmates wise up quick and cooperate. Given the endemic nature of TB and HIV/Hep C in prisons, this is a necessity. DOC officials have the authority to take actions to maintain order and security, and preventing a health crisis sure fits that bill.

That being said, it takes a lot to force health care on inmates. A court order usually. Prisoners have the same right to refuse health care the rest of us do.

I don’t see prisons in the US jumping to update inmate vaccinations. Inmate health care is costly, and this would add to the costs. Without evidence of savings, they won’t do it in the first place.

And of course, what you ignore is that most anti vaxxers have most if not all of their own childhood vaccinations, so forcing anything on Seth Welch is likely a moot point.

Panacea, that last point is very important:
although Welch is only 27, MOST well-known anti-vaxxers are old enough to have been vaccinated and to have witnessed VPDs in full flower**.

most of the contributors at AoA have teenaged or older children and are over 50. Some are over 70. Wakefield himself and Carmel are both 61.Their kids are young adults.
the TMs at TMR are similarly in their 40s and beyond
anti-vax woo-meisters/ proselytisers ( Adams, Null, Mercola, Bolen, Sayer Ji, Heckenlively, Handley etc) are also
They should know better, being either inoculated or immune through illness.

None of these parents appear to be 30 with babies at home. BUT that’s whom they’re addressing and “teaching”

** except for Jake

So did the parents not feed their baby, or does she have some sort of metabolic problem (that should have been looked at by a doctor), or what? If they just didn’t feed her, why? Did they think she was the Antichrist, or was it discipline, or something else?

I know it doesn’t really matter. I hope they spend a nice, long time behind bars. I’m just trying to understand their logic.

I wondered that, too, especially since they “thought she looked a little skinny” a month ago. There are some pictures online where you can see the swollen fontanel on that poor baby’s head.

I wonder if–this is just my own theory/thought–the mother’s pregnancy was creating problems with her milk production, and they refused to supplement? I wouldn’t be surprised if they were members of the “Breastmilk or die” cult.

I don’t think the dad is actually a man of faith; I think he’s an arrogant nutjob who latched onto religion as a way to feed his twisted fantasies of superiority and control. He just creeps me out. (Newsweek says he has priors for retail fraud and illegal entry, which is interesting.) That look of “How dare they” shock on his face, like the worst part of his baby’s death is that he might be held accountable for it and why are they making such a big deal about this? And his FB post: one line about his infant’s death and the rest is all whining about how he’s being treated poorly. Disgusting. This is obviously just my impressions after reading a few articles and seeing a few of his videos, but I don’t think we’ve even begun to see how deep his well of sociopathic lack of feeling for anyone but himself goes. (Again, not diagnosing anyone, just stating my impressions.)

Ooh, good point about the pregnancy and breastmilk supply. I could easily see them being unwilling to supplement because of religious reasons (not Christian, mind, but part of their weird religion), and baby might not have been eating enough solids to keep up–or maybe she was unable to, poor critter.

The breast milk theory does make sense, but there doesn’t seem to be any source for it. The baby was 10 months, but premature, so she was dependent on breast milk and formula whether she could eat solids or not.

The thought that this tragedy could have been avoided by buying some infant formula, or even making it. People made formula at home for centuries, and while it’s inferior to commercial formula, it sounds like just the fringe idea they would have liked.

Anyhow I’d bet against the breast milk theory per se; more likely they just decided that their supernatural powers gave them better insight into baby diets that actual medical professionals.

Oh, no, there’s no source for it–as I said, it’s my own theory/idea. I just saw that she was/is pregnant and made a guess, basically.

The case of Abdul Ghanni Wahhaj from Georgia apparently involved a different kind of religion-inspired medical neglect.

Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, 4, was allegedly abducted by Siraj Ibn Wahhaj in Clayton County, Ga., last December. The boy reportedly suffered from serious medical problems, including seizures, and developmental and cognitive delays, and had suffered brain damage at birth that left him walking with a limp.

His mother told police in Georgia that the boy’s father – Siraj Ibn Wahhaj – wanted to perform an exorcism on the child. She said Wahhaj believed “the child is possessed by the devil” and that he intended to deny the boy his medication.

This case involved abuse/neglect of several children and will probably lead to prosecutions.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1206057/officials-childs-body-found-at-taos-county-compound.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/1206439/court-docs-children-were-being-trained-to-commit-school-shootings.html

But it’s the cases that “just” deny medical treatment that are likely to slip through the cracks in the legal system.

I suspect that part of why the prosecutor is taking it seriously is that “we thought God would save our baby” or “we thought this [useless woo] that we were doing would help” is a lot more sympathetic than “I believed I should let my baby die.”

Keep these two apart, at the very least, as long as it takes to be sure they’ll never have any more children. Life terms will do the trick.

it’s rather interesting to see a Christian fundamentalist cite a social Darwinist misunderstanding of evolution

The error here is to take the facts of evolution as a moral or ethical prescription. In other words, to derive an “ought” from an “is”. Just because nature “is” red in tooth and claw doesn’t mean we “ought” act that way.

Believe it or not, I’m torn over whether life in prison is too harsh a penalty for these people

Maximum sentences rarely happen to white people. I’d bet on probation, but I haven’t read the complaint.

Perhaps the trial will be a long time coming which will at least keep him in jail and spare us his social media presence.

Well, a search on the Web site of the 17th Circuit Court, which I think would be the venue, is not showing anything for Welch, but I also haven’t had any coffee.

Ah. It’s district court. I thought the circuit courts handled felonies.

Kent County Sheriff’s Office told Newsweek that Welch has prior convictions for retail fraud and illegal entry.

An upstanding citizen.

It’s amazing how some religionists manage to use their religion as an excuse for all manner of abuse of children. Or else to cover up abuse they know about: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/09/report-damns-culture-of-acceptance-of-sexual-abuse-at-two-catholic-schools.

In my former professional capacity a significant number of the instances of child sexual abuse I came across were within or related to organised religious bodies (the related to includes within highly religious families).

I still can’t wrap my head around something I once read in a pretty left-wing hippy dippy Dutch magazine, where someone stated that children choose where they were born, so if they were born in an abusive family, they choose for it, because they had to learn something.
So I suppose this child had to learn it couldn’t live without food, some lesson for her next life.

So, if I punched one of those types repeatedly in the face for a very long time that would be because they were born to learn about having their face pulped for being such an absolute – insert extreme epithet of your choice here – and it would be their own choice for that to happen? OK, I can go with that!

I’m affraid it doesn’t work that way. It’s just the unborn children, that choose their parents (or their soul chooses in which child it need to be born).

Ugh. I’m going to be sick.

Maybe if she’d been paying attention and not dreaming, her daughter would still be alive. This family is the poster child for why CPS is broken.

I don’t think these “religious” people realize that they are mocking G-d.
When I went to Israel I got to see the actual biblical hell in Jerusalem. Some ancient kings decided to forsake the Hebrew G-d and the sacrificed their children by fire to a fake god. This pissed off G-d and the land was cursed forever, nothing is ever built there.
See here http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gehenna

The whole point of the Abraham and Isaac story is that unlike some of the other gods around at the time, the Hebrew G-d does not demand the sacrifice of human life.

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