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Parents Sentenced to Prison for Belief in Healing Power of Prayer

Couple who broke probation with death of second son given one of harshest punishments for faith healing.
Parents Sentenced to Prison for Belief in Healing Power of Prayer
Image: Wikimedia

Two Pentecostal parents from Philadelphia watched two of their sons die from treatable diseases because they believe in faith healing. Now the couple has been sentenced to between three and seven years in prison.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible—already on a 10-year probation for the death of their 2-year-old son Kent from untreated bacterial pneumonia in 2009—were found guilty of third-degree homicide, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy following the death of their second son, Brandon, last year.

The couple refused to take the seven-month-old to the hospital. Suffering from dehydration and bacterial pneumonia, Brandon died instead of being given fluids and antibiotics.

"We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil's power," Herbert Schaible told police after Brandon's death.

On Wednesday, judge Benjamin Lerner told the Schaibles, "You've killed two of your children. ... Not God. Not your church. Not religious devotion. You."

The legal battles surrounding faith healing are not new, as CT has reported. The Associated Press reports that about a dozen American children die each year in faith-healing cases. The Shaibles' case is the latest to address parents who forego traditional medical treatment and resort to faith or prayer healing instead. Although "more than a dozen" states legally protect parents' right to pursue faith healing, according to the AP, the extent of that protection has not been firmly established. In some situations, parents may be immune to child abuse charges, but not to homicide counts.

However, the punishments doled out by courts have been increasing. The prison sentence awarded to the Schaibles is one of the more severe punishments in recent memory.

Other cases include:

  • A Wisconsin homicide case resulted in the parents receiving six months in jail and a 10-year probation for the death of their 11-year-old daughter, Madeline Kara Neumann.
  • In Oregon, the state removed a child from the custody of faith-healing parents before the child died, the first time authorities have removed a child from members of a Followers of Christ church, a 1,200-member sect that refuses secular medicine. The age and health condition of the child were not given.
  • Another couple in Oregon faced 16 months in prison after they were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide. Their teenage son, Neil Beagley, died because of complications from a urinary tract blockage.

Views on faith healing among evangelicals vary, suggests recent research. Regarding proxy decisions by parents—a theme at the core of recent prosecutions of child deaths among families that practice faith healing—the Pew Research Center found that only about one quarter of white evangelicals support the parents' right to refuse medical treatment for a child.

Meanwhile, almost 70 percent of white evangelicals and 75 percent of black Protestants believe that infants born with life-threatening defects should receive as much medical treatment as possible. (Among all adults, about 38 percent believe a parent has the right to refuse treatment for an infant with a life-threatening diagnosis.)

CT has explored whether faith healing should be legally protected.

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