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. cgowens

    "Religious belief is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep, who can subject you – who must, indeed, subject you – to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life – I say, of your life – before you’re born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you’re dead. A spiritual North Korea! Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate? I’ve been to North Korea. It has a dead man as its president; Kim Jong-Un is only head of the party and head of the army. He’s not head of the state. That office belongs to his deceased father, Kim Il-Sung / Kim Jong-Il. It’s a necrocracy, a thanatocracy. It’s one short of a trinity I might add. The son is the reincarnation of the father. It is the most revolting and utter and absolute and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved. But at least you can die and leave North Korea!"


    June 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  2. faith


    In Santa we trust
    btw. There is a reply button.
    If god knows what your choice will be, it is pre-determined; if it is pre-determined, it is not a choice.

    god's foreknowledge does not predetermine anything.

    the remarkable stupidity of nazi god-hating fascists is exceeded only by their ridiculous attempts 2 divert thru lies

    and, when they no they r cooked, they stay away. dodo uses some new name to respond meekly and then bolts. i have stated hundreds of times the new testament is evidence that christ lived and that he was divine. nazis don't challenge me. they cannot. even real scholars (unlike dodo and her cronies) refer to the new testament as evidence. they don't consider it a work of fiction. they no it cannot b dismissed

    June 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Science

      Maybe the dinobird will swoop down and take the ICR ,RCC and the Discovery Insti-tute away.

      Evolution again the Dinobird.............no god(s) needed.

      X-Rays Reveal New Picture of 'Dinobird' Plumage Patterns

      June 11, 2013 —


      Or the action plan will help ...............a couple of chondrites knocked together shacks the faith also !

      Imagine No Religion 3: Peter Boghossian


      June 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • faith

      thanks bill ni. u do a gr8 job posting these references. i really enjoy them and the videos.

      appreciate u bro

      June 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  3. faith


    The new testament is evidence for the existence of god in the same way that grimm's fairy tales is evidence for the existence of hansel and gretel.

    perfect. illustrates my point.

    June 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  4. sweenbass

    When it comes to matters concerning all of the books that people consider to be "holy" (Bible, Koran, Gita etc...)
    Are there some interesting stories in those books? Some stories are & some are not. The ones that you think are interesting may not be the ones that interest me but that's personal taste.
    Do those aforementioned books contain philosophies that people can use to help improve their lives & the lives of others? Of course they do! This is true of all those books & more.
    However when it comes to questions of a spiritual nature (A deity, A life force or soul, existence after natural death etc...), the best that those books can do is speculate. That is because they were written by people.
    Some people wish to hang their spiritual hat on a speculation that one of those books offer. I do not.
    Is there a spiritual component to the universe? I don't know.
    However, I have not read anything in any of those books that convinces me that the speculations in them are anything more than that.
    That is why I refer to myself as an agnostic.

    June 12, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • faith


      wake me up dodo when u have a new approach

      June 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • faith


      u do realize u r getting d e m o l i s h e d

      June 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • faith

      u will b the last person 2 figure out u believe. u r just mentally ill. increase intake of prozac to 80mgs per day. ur bpd symptoms will improve

      June 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  5. Seek the Giver of life before you face the reality of death

    It's ironic that scientist, atheist, nor anyone else can provide that smallest piece of evidence PROVING the non-existence of an intelligent Creator. By definition making them people of great faith. Yet they boast around blinded by the pride of their foolishness thinking themselves wise. They say Christians believe in an imaginary fairytale, yet all of their changing theories came from the thoughts and imagination of limited minds. On the contrary Christians embrace the evidence of creation which shows intelligent design. Proving its origin being from a mere coincidence impossible, and clearly pointing to the incomprehensible genius of an Immortal Creator. Q:If life was not created by an intelligent Creator, why are the smartest among the geniuses of the world finding it impossible to figure out the origin of life? If you are open minded to learning visit www . theeternalwisdom . com Trusting in finite minds to figure out infinite things is more senseless than a blind mind chasing the wind. P.S. I'm speaking of a Creator not a specific God......

    June 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Yawn

      How many times are you going to post this garbage. This has been disputed, and you've been proven wrong. Stop posting this crap.

      June 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • JASC92

      for your information, the origin of life has already been figured out, the primordial soup theory. in science theory's change in accordance to evidence that is discovered, that ether prove it right or wrong. and when its prove wrong , you ether modify it or discard it and think of a new one basing yourself on the evidence previously obtained.

      June 12, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • faith

      dodo. don't quit so easily

      June 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  6. faith

    many act and speak exactly like the xtards they condemn and hate. (of course, most o f t h e ti me t e y r r e p r e h e n s i b l e j u t t o b a i t c h ri s t ia n s i n t o u g l y o u t b u r s t s to r e m in d t h e m t h ei r l or d is no t h ap py w i t h t h e m, a ll e s ig n e to h um i l ia t e t h e m.) ye t, t h eir e a g e rn es s to p lay this g am e is in di cat iv e of wh a t t h o roug hly vile an i m als the y re al ly r. duh

    w a t c h

    June 12, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  7. faith

    In Santa we trust
    btw. There is a reply button.
    If god knows what your choice will be, it is pre-determined; if it is pre-determined, it is not a choice.

    how is god's knowledge predeterminant?

    June 12, 2013 at 3:22 am |
  8. faith

    Please post a link confirming this, because I could not find any evidence this is remotely factual.

    remotely factual

    June 12, 2013 at 3:11 am |
  9. faith

    the new testament is evidence that jesus christ is god

    "Without any evidence to back up an assertion something exists, it is unreasonable to believe it does."

    "Not believing gods exists is the only reasonable position in light of complete and utter lack of any evidence that they do."

    June 12, 2013 at 2:53 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Prove The Babble, OT, NT or any variant, is the word of any god.

      June 12, 2013 at 2:56 am |
    • faith

      the new testament is evidence

      June 12, 2013 at 3:12 am |
    • JC

      The new testament is evidence for the existence of god in the same way that grimm's fairy tales is evidence for the existence of hansel and gretel.

      June 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • JASC92

      the existence of misfortune is prove that god (almighty, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise) does not exist. because if the god of the bible existed, misfortune cannot exist. but it there exist ALOT of misfortune in the world, that can only mean that ether god doe not exist or his nature is totally different than what is described in the bible and the Quran. in ether way, both books are therefor false, and no different than the lord of the rings

      June 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • faith

      dodo, u need to get to get educated. honey.

      "JASC92 the existence of misfortune is prove that god (almighty, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise) does not exist. because if the god of the bible existed, misfortune cannot exist. but it there exist ALOT of misfortune in the world, that can only mean that ether god doe not exist or his nature is totally different than what is described in the bible and the Quran. in ether way, both books are therefor false, and no different than the lord of the rings"

      100% wrong. u like this view. sorry. there r other possibilities. pain and god can live together. hating pain fuels ur childish arguments.

      is there evidence god exists? u use faulty reasoning because ur pride blocks reality. u r not a genius. also, u fail 2 c the breakdown of ur silly ideas because of ur enormous ego, u c flaws in everyone but u.

      the new testament, otoh, is the tried and true unveiling of god and his involvement in the universe. no one but a few immature spoiled brats classify it as a fairy tale.

      June 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  10. Meg

    The pastor should be charged, the gutless devil.

    June 12, 2013 at 1:29 am |
  11. wargod

    put'em in the damn chair together

    June 11, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  12. Anna

    Legs of Hollywood.

    June 10, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  13. Anna

    Is It Wrong to Make Babies Cry For Art?

    June 10, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  14. JS

    If God heals all diseases and sickness is a result of unresolved sin or lack of faith, then why do non-Christians recover from diseases? You'd think our unresolved sin and lack of faith would kill us every time.

    June 9, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  15. Jeff

    These people would rot in hell (if it wasn't a made up place), but hopefully they will rot in jail first

    June 9, 2013 at 5:39 am |
  16. faith

    got it all

    thanks girls

    June 9, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • Science

      Agree the bible is BS and no red horn-y beast.....the truth.

      Biblical Marriage Not Defined Simply As One Man, One Woman: Iowa Religious Scholars' Op-Ed



      June 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Science

      Science wins over creationism in South Korea

      Government asks publishers to retain examples of evolution in science textbooks.


      June 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Science

      Where is fred faithy.......... is he the talking snake in the tree ?

      June 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  17. topcat

    good example of letting a religious book ruin your life.

    June 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  18. proud2bsecular

    This article is near proof that fundamentalist believers divert oxygen from their brains. I wish they only prayed over themselves when they had medically curable conditions; odd how it always seems to be their kids they sacrifice. It's concomitantly proof that there is no god; he/she/it wouldn't let something this insane happen (least of all in his/her/its name).

    June 5, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  19. Science

    The truth.............below .............no fairy in the sky needed !

    The Christian Be Nice article Chad Austin has been tagged/pegged !

    Hey chad the game of life aye ...............and you suck at it !

    Hey faithy...the troll.....all creationists...........chadie too ...............COMEDY GOLD link at bottom of post !!! The pesky meteorites/chondrites = life .........................not the nasty bible. and Adam and his bone. No horn-y red beast needed.......no heaven either..........but they (meteorites) where hot when they where coming in. Life-Producing Phosphorus Carried to Earth by Meteorites June 4, 2013 — Scientists may not know for certain whether life exists in outer space, but new research from a team of scientists led by a University of South Florida astrobiologist now shows that one key element that produced life on Earth was carried here on meteorites. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604153520.htm http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/23/heaven-for-atheists-pope-sparks-debate/#comments

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    June 5, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  20. Sanity

    Yet another example of the evil in "religion." They're criminals.

    June 4, 2013 at 8:11 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.