Vegan Mom Regains Custody of Infant After Formula Dispute

A Florida mom whose baby was made a ward of the state after she refused to have him medically treated for dehydration due to her religious and vegan beliefs, regained custody of her son on Wednesday. But Sarah Markham of Casselberry still faces child neglect charges stemming from the incident, in August, which led to her arrest.

According to Markham’s lawyer Mark O’Mara (who led the defense in the George Zimmerman case), Dr. Carlos Chaban diagnosed Markahm’s newborn with “failure to thrive” — a state of “undernutrition” due to inadequate caloric intake or absorption, as defined by the American Academy of Family Physicians. It turned out that the infant was having trouble breastfeeding because of being “tongue-tied,” O’Mara explains on his website, and so Chaban recommended that Markham supplement with formula and gave her a sample. He also advised her to take her baby to the hospital to be treated for dehydration and weight-loss.

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According to O’Mara, Markham, who is a vegan Seventh Day Adventist adherent, chose to buy a different, soy-based formula at Whole Foods, because the brand Chaban recommended contained animal products. She then went home instead of the hospital. At that point, O’Mara says, police arrived, at the behest of the Florida Department of Children and Family Services, who had been contacted by Chaban. Authorities allegedly entered Markham’s home “forcefully,” removing her 12-day-old son from her arms and arresting her for neglect.


Markham and her baby this week. Photo by Facebook.

Chaban was unavailable to speak with Yahoo Parenting, however, according to an office manager who identified herself as Stephanie, Markham’s lawyer “made a deal before [Dr. Chaban] even got on the stand, which was probably in her best interest.”

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According to the AAFP, the condition of “failure to thrive” is seen in 5 to 10 percent of children in primary-care settings in the U.S. “A multidisciplinary approach to treatment, including home nursing visits and nutritional counseling, has been shown to improve weight gain, parent-child relationships, and cognitive development,” it notes in a recent update on its website.

O’Mara does admit that the infant “was, in fact, having trouble gaining weight,” but writes, “Sarah believes the doctor would NOT have recommended she go to the hospital if she hadn’t challenged him by asking for an alternative.” After her arrest, he adds, the newborn was taken to the hospital and fed the vegan formula by those caring for him, “and that’s all they did for the baby.”

Now, O’Mara explains, “After more than five months of fighting DCF, Sarah can still not be with her child unsupervised. The baby’s father put his job in jeopardy to make important court dates. Their lives have been turned upside down, and now we have to focus our attention on defending Sarah against the pending criminal charges. That is disgusting.”

Markham’s case is the latest in a seemingly growing string of babies being removed from parental care by authorities following a medical dispute of some sort — the most well-known being that of Justina Pelletier, in which Boston Children’s Hospital fought for and won temporary state custody of her over a disagreement with parents about a controversial medical diagnosis.

Other notable cases have included that of “baby Sammy,” the Sacramento, Calif., 5-month-old who was put into protective custody after parents Anna and Alex Nikolayev left a hospital to seek a second opinion after being told their son needed open-heart surgery. Police showed up at their home a day later and, in an incident caught on home video, seized the baby. “Any doctor, any hospital, anyone, doesn’t have the right to make decisions about a child’s health care,” The Nikolayev’s lawyer, Joseph Weinberger, told the Today Show. And Anna, speaking about the day he was taken, said, “I didn’t know where my son was. They just took him…out of my hands. I didn’t even know where to start or what to do.” They reunited after a week.

And, in 2012, Pennsylvania couple Scott and Jodi Ferris reportedly had their newborn daughter briefly removed from their custody after not immediately approving a hepatitis B vaccine for her baby. Jodi recently described the hospital’s attitude as, “we’re the experts, so just do what we tell you.” A civil case against the hospital is still pending.