Prosecutor: Parents' belief in faith healing led to infant's death
May 24th, 2013
05:22 PM ET

Prosecutor: Parents' belief in faith healing led to infant's death

By Sarah Hoye, CNN
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Philadelphia (CNN)–When Brandon Schaible got a rash, his parents prayed.

When the 7-month-old became irritable with diarrhea and lost his appetite, his parents, Catherine and Herbert Schaible, prayed again.

When Brandon had trouble breathing and gasped for air, his parents called a pastor - this, in spite of the fact that a judge had ordered them to call a doctor.

Brandon Schaible died on April 18 from bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and strep, according to the district attorney’s office – all treatable with antibiotics.

On Wednesday his parents were charged with third-degree murder.

The Schaibles are lifelong members of the First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia, one of several religious groups in the U.S. that relies on faith, and eschews most medical care.

Founded in 1925, the First Century Gospel Church is an offshoot of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, also in Philadelphia. Both churches believe that God - and God alone - heals the sick.

“Herbert’s a father like anyone else. He’s hurt and he’s mourning the death of his son,” said Bobby Hoof, Herbert Schaible’s attorney. “He’s not snubbing his nose at the court. He’s incarcerated because of his faith.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams says the Schaibles’ failure to seek medical attention resulted in the death of their son.

“Instead of caring and nurturing him,” Williams said, “they ultimately caused his death by praying over his body instead of taking him to the doctor.”

The Schaibles are also charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child. In April, the couple admitted to police that their son had exhibited symptoms for several days before he died.

On Friday, Court of Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner ordered the Schaibles held without bail out of fear they were a flight risk.

“When this happened the first time around, the Schaibles had every reason to believe that, because of their faith, they had done nothing wrong,” Lerner said. “I know they’re not ‘sophisticated criminals’ … but the circumstances have changed.”

The Schaibles are already on probation for the 2009 death of another son, Kent, who died from bacterial pneumonia. A jury convicted the couple of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced them to 10 years probation.

Lerner said he was concerned that pastors and members in “churches like the Schaibles” would harbor them.

In a media interview last month, Pastor Nelson Clark of the First Century Gospel Church, said the Brandon and Ken Schaible died because of their parents’ “spiritual lack.”

Mythri Jayaraman, Catherine Schaible's attorney, called her a "completely devoted mother."

“The charges suggest a level of callousness that doesn’t fit who Catherine is,” Jayaraman said.

In addition to Pennsylvania, faith healing deaths have been prosecuted in Michigan, Indiana and Massachusetts.

According to Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), a nonprofit child advocacy group, at least 30 children have died since 1971 in Pennsylvania as a result of a parent's refusal to seek medical treatment because of their belief in faith healing.

Among the 30 are six children who died in 1991 from a measles outbreak in Philadelphia, all whom were born into families that belonged to either First Century Gospel Church or Faith Tabernacle.

“It’s a terrible conflict for these parents. They love their children and can see their child suffering,” said Rita Swan, president of CHILD. “If the laws were clearer, many of these parents would be relived of the pressure. As for the Schaibles, they are remarkably stubborn and extreme.”

Swan began advocating for the removal of religious exemptions from immunizations and parental legal requirements after her son Matthew died in 1977 from bacterial meningitis. She and her husband had relied on Christian Science practitioners to heal him.

“The poor child couldn’t lift an arm,” Swan said. “We prayed, we went to the practitioner. We trusted them.”

For members of faith-healing sects, it is common to believe that sickness is a result of unresolved sin or lack of faith, said Anthea Butler, a professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Faith-healing sects often interpret the Bible literally, citing, for example, Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul … Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases.”

First Century Gospel Church’s website reinforces that theme, citing the New Testament’s Book of Acts, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name, and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.”

Other religious groups believe that God can heal the sick, and many believers pray to be delivered from illness. The difference is that they, unlike the Schaibles, often seek medical attention in addition to prayer, Butler said.

First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann says the Schaibles’ actions, not beliefs, are the problem.

“How many kids have to die before it becomes an extreme indifference to the value of human life?” McCann asked. “They killed one child already.”

If convicted of third-degree murder in Brandon’s death, the Schaibles could face a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison, Lerner said. They also face an additional 7 to 14 years if a judge decides to revoke their probation in Kent’s death.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christian Science • Christianity • Crime • Culture & Science • Faith & Health

soundoff (2,002 Responses)
  1. You are ALL morons

    I think those people who relied on "FAITH" should be put to death, faith is nothing but a false belief things will be ok. in the case of the said doctor or doctors involved with Arteisha Betts I believe they should be charged for there stupidity and negligence, I think 30 to life sounds fair.

    January 4, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
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    December 24, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  3. Fr33th1nk3r

    What a tragedy....
    First, I am surprised that looney organizations like the First Tabernacle are still in operation– one would theorize that all their members would have died off by now. Secondly, members of this cult who die from preventable natural causes should also receive a Darwin Award in addition to their much-needed criminal convictions– too bad the recipient this time would have been two innocent children, who did nothing wrong except to be born to a pair of imbeciles for parents....

    December 1, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
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  6. I AM

    This is a horrible tragedy that could have been prevented. They killed two children with their 'faith'. They should be publicly whipped and sent to prison.

    July 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
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    June 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Which is EXACTLY why you should go to the doctor if you suffer from it.

      December 1, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
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  11. Lauren

    It is hard to believe that occurrences such as these still happen in our society today. What the Schaibles let happen to their son is criminal, even the judge told them to call a doctor. They had even had this happen before with their pervious son Kent, which they were on probation for. I feel sorry for people who believe so strongly in faith healing that they are willing to let loved ones die for the sake of faith. They seem to be absorbed by the glamour of being healed by God, by that person on television who wears long white robes and a headset microphone who tap people on the head and exclaim, be healed! These people are being taken advantage of. But none of this is an excuse to blame religion as a whole. People seem to find it easy to point fingers when it involves an organized group of people. @Sanity, says this is another example of why religion is evil, when this might not have even made the news if it was not for the religion involved. We pick and choose what we want to read and hear about, but this is no cause to blame religion as a whole.

    June 15, 2013 at 1:35 am |
    • Monica

      So true Lauren, people always find a way to blame religion but its not always at fault. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it the fact that what people are taught about God is wrong. But that doesn't make all religion bad just because one group teaches a false belief. Their church could be part to blame. Nowhere in the Bible does God command us to not see a Doctor because we can heal ourselves through prayer. In fact, even though there was healing in the time of the apostles, Paul wrote that" it would be done away with". So no one on Earth here today has the power to heal , and if they tell you that, its a lie. That is where you need to discern for yourself what is the truth and what is not. And sadly this couple was told that it was possible and they believed and now their children have suffered the consequences of their decision.

      July 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  12. My Dog is a jealous Dog


    "maybe that is GODs work and HIS way of protecting any future children this couple may have had"

    And MAYBE – just MAYBE – there is no god, and these are just mentally deranged individuals with more love for their invisible friend than for their own children. Religion is constantly trying to subvert nature (dominance, repression, ...) and this is the extreme example of why religion is evil – it has subverted these parents natural inclination to protect and care for their own children. It has made these people into inhuman monsters – they did this TWICE!!!

    June 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • waldo

      So true – these killers should be infected with some terrible disease and then televised as they beg for a cure from the Invisible Man. It wont happen since there is NO invisible man. And now these bloodthirsty killers will be allows to keep on living after they callously murdered their own kids. I wonder how much joy and laughter they experienced as their helpless kid slipped into death?

      August 7, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  13. tony

    But god has a plan . . . their children were going to spread his word. . . . . .

    Oh Well. Let's get the next plan out.

    June 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  14. Patti

    a horrific tragedy..........
    the only silver lining on this darkness is, that they will no longer be able to have children........
    maybe that is GODs work and HIS way of protecting any future children this couple may have had and to open our eyes as to the severity that is happening in HIS name and faith..........
    on many levels, this is wrong

    June 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.