Sarah Anne Markham, 23, is facing charges of child neglect after she allegedly refused to take her newborn baby to a hospital despite the child being dehydrated and underweight. The police reported that the reason was that Markham is a vegan and objected to the formula prescribed by the doctors.
The arrest was triggered by a report from a pediatrician who told Markham that her baby needed to be hospitalized for treatment to address the low weight and dehydration issues. Markham instead went home and then refused to open the door when police arrived. According to the police report, the officers proceeded to call a locksmith to enter the apartment where they found Markham who insisted that she wanted to get a second opinion form a “vegan doctor.” Police also report that Markham said that she would not give the formula/medicine that the doctor provided because she believed that some of ingredients came from animals. She is also quoted as saying that she purchased organic soy formula and, when asked by the officers how she knew that it was safe for a newborn, she allegedly said that if Whole Foods Market sells it then the formula doesn’t contain any animal parts and, therefore, must be safe.
While she agreed to take the baby to the hospital, police said that she waited an hour and was then placed under arrest. Her baby was placed into state custody.
The case could raise the question of where to draw the line between parental authority over nutrition and child welfare. Presumably, a child can be raised on a vegan diet and develop in a perfectly healthy way. The courts tend to accept the view of doctors when they concluded that a child is at risk. However, vegans insist that babies can be raised on a vegan diet. I would think that vegan parents have a legitimate objection for prescribed formula on the grounds that the product contains animal residue or ingredients — just as religious diets are given accommodation. In this case, the report of the hospital will be key to any prosecution and there could be a contest of experts on the degree of dehydration and underweight readings.