Faith-Healing Couple Lets Another Child Die
Update (August 13): Herbert and Catherine Schaible will face a murder trial after a judge dismissed their request to drop the charges.
The couple's 8-month-old son, Brandon, died of pneumonia in circumstances that Judge Benjamin Lerner called "strikingly similar" to those of the death of the Schaibles' 2-year-old son Kent in 2009. The Schaibles had argued a lack of evidence in connection with Brandon's death in April.
"They promised never to let something like this happen again," Judge Benjamin Lerner said of the case. "But when push came to shove, they prayed, with no more attention to that promise than a puff of air."
The Schaibles are third-generation members of Philadelphia's First Century Gospel Church, which holds that use of traditional medical practices shows a lack of faith in God's power.
Update (May 24): Prosecutors have charged Herbert and Catherine Schaible with third-degree murder after a medical examiner ruled the death of their 8-month-old (from bacteria pneumonia and dehydration) to be a homicide.
The Schaible's church is one of two faith-healing churches in Philadelphia linked to the deaths of 24 children since 1971, reports a local NBC affiliate.
Paul Offit, leader of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's infectious diseases division, told NBC 10 that he is writing a writing a book about a 1990s measles outbreak among church members. "Although you are allowed to martyr yourself to your religion, you are not allowed to martyr your child to your religion," he said.
CNN also examines the charges.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible are still serving probation for the death of their child in 2009, but the Pennsylvania couple could face new charges after they violated the terms of their probation by letting another die.
According to the Pennsylvania Inquirer, the Schaibles currently are awaiting a medical examiner's report before they know whether they will be charged in the death of their 8-month old son Brandon. A judge at a preliminary hearing Monday said, "there was evidence the ... couple had 'knowingly, intentionally, callously, and hypocritically' violated the most important condition of their probation: getting help for an ailing child."
The couple pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2011, after they allowed their 2-year-old child die of pneumonia. But the Schaibles say they are not willfully negligent parents, though they also lost custody of their seven other children.
Instead, they "had told investigators that they prayed to God to make Brandon well instead of seeking medical attention" because of their religion.
That argument could help swing things in their favor: According to Religion Clause, "Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law, Sec. 3490.4 provides that a child will not be deemed to be abused where the parent has not sought medical care because of seriously held religious beliefs."
It isn't uncommon for Christians to pray for healing, but fundamentalist sects often have battled for parents' rights to reject medical care. Whether or not it should be legally protected, researchers have expressed worry that parents who hope for divine intervention may act against the best interests of their child.