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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. Science

    Hey Chad,faith the peach and all creationists what color JELL- O you stuck IN. ? Star Dusts (chondrites) and water !

    Scientists Offer First Definitive Proof of Bacteria-Feeding Behavior in Green Algae

    May 23, 2013 — A team of researchers has captured images of green alga consuming bacteria, offering a glimpse at how early organisms dating back more than 1 billion years may have acquired free-living photosynthetic cells. This acquisition is thought to have been a critical first step in the evolution of photosynthetic algae and land plants, which, in turn, contributed to the increase in oxygen levels in Earth's atmosphere and ocean and provided one of the conditions necessary for animal evolution.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130523143741.htm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lafL_mmv3EA

    Game over .................god(s) did NOT create US !

    Peace

    May 25, 2013 at 5:55 am |
    • midwest rail

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE

      May 25, 2013 at 5:56 am |
    • Science

      Spam comes in a can from Hormel !

      May 25, 2013 at 7:16 am |
    • Science

      Hey faith...........Thanks have a great life.

      http://www.wecanbeheroes.org/

      Peace

      May 25, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • Science

      Faith the peachy one !

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/23/heaven-for-atheists-pope-sparks-debate/

      May 25, 2013 at 7:25 am |
    • The real Tom

      Thank you, midwest! What a great way to begin the day!

      May 25, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  2. required

    That is faith.

    May 25, 2013 at 4:40 am |
    • required

      Jacob had faith, but it still took Joseph storing the grain 7 years during plenty, so when the famine hit, his father Jacob and sons could survive. Faith and doing what you have to do... it takes both.

      May 25, 2013 at 4:53 am |
    • midwest rail

      The Schaibles used the exact same book you use.

      May 25, 2013 at 5:38 am |
    • Science

      Hey NO faith...............required !

      Hey Chad,faith the peach and all creationists what color JELL- O you stuck IN. ? Star Dusts (chondrites) and water !

      Scientists Offer First Definitive Proof of Bacteria-Feeding Behavior in Green Algae

      May 23, 2013 — A team of researchers has captured images of green alga consuming bacteria, offering a glimpse at how early organisms dating back more than 1 billion years may have acquired free-living photosynthetic cells. This acquisition is thought to have been a critical first step in the evolution of photosynthetic algae and land plants, which, in turn, contributed to the increase in oxygen levels in Earth's atmosphere and ocean and provided one of the conditions necessary for animal evolution.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130523143741.htm

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lafL_mmv3EA

      Game over .................god(s) did NOT create US !

      Peace

      May 25, 2013 at 5:51 am |
    • HotAirAce

      That's not faith – that's incredibly stupid and deadly belief in the dead jew zombie!

      May 25, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  3. R.M. Goodswell

    you'd think the first child dying would be like an ice water type wake up call.....to lose a second kid in the same manner.....wow....

    Religion is sickening – the headlines these days are insane...We are insane.....Humanity deserves a collective Darwin Award.....

    May 25, 2013 at 3:58 am |
  4. Jimmy G.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: Some people shouldn't be allowed to have children or even be around children.

    Until we start doing something about mentally ill people having children that are instantly abused, everyone should be sterilized and made to wait for them to get a LICENSE that they have to actually qualify for and be tested and monitored – all for the sake of the children.
    It's kind of fascist, I'll admit, but it's not to kill but to prevent abuse, that's all I'm suggesting here, and I'm looking at you, Mark, because you are always the one to conflate anything into instant nazis marching down the road, and I see you rollin.

    May 25, 2013 at 3:15 am |
  5. amyhenson456

    until I saw the bank draft for $8596, I be certain ...that...my mother in law woz like trully taking home money part-time on-line.. there mums best friend has been doing this for less than 11 months and at present paid the mortgage on their cottage and purchased Ford. go to........... Fℴx85.ℂℴm

    May 25, 2013 at 2:33 am |
    • Atheism is unhealthy for children and other living things

      until I saw the bank draft for $8596, I be certain ...that...my mother in law woz like trully taking home money part-time on-line.. there mums best friend has been doing this for less than 11 months and at present paid the mortgage on their cottage and purchased Ford. go to........... God in prayer.

      May 25, 2013 at 2:38 am |
  6. Patty

    What's the argument here? You don't have the right to use your religion or culture as an excuse to abuse a child. If your child is sick and you neglect to get them care, then your ass belongs in jail. If these two idiots want to forego medical treatment for themselves, then fine. It's your body, do what you want. But you don't get to let a child die like that. I'm glad they're in pain, they deserve no less.

    May 25, 2013 at 2:20 am |
    • Jimmy G.

      Some parents think they have the right to control everything about a child's life. Yet this would be wrong.

      May 25, 2013 at 2:30 am |
  7. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Before you criticize these parents, see parenting through their eyes. It's something like Eraserhead with God mixed in with it. Then sterilize them, and put them and their sect away where they are never heard from again.

    May 25, 2013 at 1:50 am |
  8. hereticsclub

    So be it. Should any such as these parents ever themselves need medical care let it therefore be denied them.

    May 25, 2013 at 1:44 am |
  9. Robert Brown

    When I read this story here is the thought that came to mind;

    Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
    Mat. 4:5-7

    Not seeking help for something that could be so easily cured is no different than jumping off a tall building.

    May 25, 2013 at 12:52 am |
    • tallulah13

      Yet their decision not to take their child to a doctor stems from their interpretation of that same bible. It seems to me that the bible can be whatever you want it to be.

      May 25, 2013 at 12:59 am |
    • Robert Brown

      tallulah13,

      It can be if you take one or two verses, many times out of context, and base your whole religion on those. The correct way to interpret the word of God is with the word of God.

      May 25, 2013 at 1:07 am |
    • Athy

      Why not just chuck the fuking bible and do what makes sense? Is that concept a little too complex for you religies?

      May 25, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Perhaps some people, and their pastors, just get it wrong, Robert, even if they do try to interpret the Bible through the Bible – which means, I suppose, seeing it as something coherent and consistent.

      May 25, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"Why not just chuck the fuking bible and do what makes sense? Is that concept a little too complex for you religies?"

      Doing what makes sense does vary from one person to the next and maybe that is a blessing in itself. We have tons of laws and rights, which are given to us as Americans. If your view of "what makes sense", was reality, then we would not need lawyers, judges or even politicians. It is the basic beautiful human flaw in that we are not monolithic drones. Even within Christianity, Judism, Islam and even Atheism, we do not see everyone on the same "page". So, why throw out the Bible when we are willing to live with so many other articles of rules and laws.

      Our society is not monolitihic .... or maybe that is something too complex for a Darweenie such as yourself 🙂

      May 25, 2013 at 2:00 am |

    • Funny you should mention Darwin, Mark. There's a little selection pressure at work here amongst the faithies. Don't you think so?

      May 25, 2013 at 2:07 am |
    • Jimmy G.

      @MMR
      Our society is not monolithic, and that's great, but why would you say that mentally ill people should be considered as a type of our mulit-cultural diversity when mental illness is not a form of culture??
      Could you explain this weird inclusion of mentally ill people as being a form of culture when it is a health condition?
      Oh, wait, you are going to insist religious people are not delusional, right?
      Look up the word 'delusion and tell me if that cannot be applied to what religious people are doing or not.

      May 25, 2013 at 2:55 am |
    • The real Tom

      The Piddler: Our society is not monolitihic .... or maybe that is something too complex for a Darweenie such as yourself

      Gee, I guess that sort of snark is what Piddles means by "meeting in the middle."

      What a fvcking twerp.

      May 25, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  10. tallulah13

    There is a similar cult near the city where I live. They have a graveyard full of children who died of easily treated maladies, and mothers who died in childbirth. They have only been prosecuted in recent years, when the state finally stopped allowing them to hide behind their religion.

    These people are insane. There is no other word for it, other than criminal.

    May 25, 2013 at 12:43 am |
  11. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim

    Bill Moyers interviews Daniel Dennett

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUeQXmYVamA

    Dennett: "[not for all, but for many, the dangerous thing about religion is that] it gives people a gold-plated excuse to stop thinking."

    May 25, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  12. Apple Bush

    When I see the pictures of these two losers, I just want to slap them on the forehead. Slap. Slap. Slap. Maybe some pokes in the eye balls to. Poke Poke Poke. Now lay them down on the ground so kids can damage you. Maybe the ghosts of their dead children.

    May 25, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • Castlebeck

      Wow, Apple Bush, what a christian way to respond... Oh wait, it's just like the guy said, YOU stopped thinking!!!

      May 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  13. Akira

    "..... Pastor Nelson Clark of the First Century Gospel Church, said the Brandon and Ken Schaible died because of their parents’ “spiritual lack.”

    Reprehensible. This is downright criminal. This "Pastor" is criminal. These parents are criminal. They both need to be prevented from inflicting their "faith" on any children they may have in the future.

    I don't know what the answer is, but this story nauseated me. And this is the second child they killed through their neglect?
    Reprehensible.

    May 24, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • .

      All right, since your post didn't address anything I said, I'll repeat the salient points in hopes that somebody who does answer address them:

      I don’t know what the answer is, but this story nauseated me. And this is the second child they killed through their neglect?
      Reprehensible.

      They asked their absolute GOD. They needed to ask an absolute DOCTOR.

      May 25, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • Akira

      May 25, 2013 at 12:45 am |
  14. Reality

    Last time I checked, our judicial system casts many a stone to include execution when needed.

    May 24, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  15. Apple Bush

    I had a dream last night.

    My wife was pregnant with our third child. Suddenly the baby was born, our third girl. She was beautiful and strangely she stood up and started walking almost immediately.

    Through a serious of unexplainable events, in a blink of an eye she was grown but it was not right. She was not mine. This was not my universe.

    I discovered that gravity and magnetic convergence had been perverted somehow, globbing together at random.

    Soon I was being pulled into different time lines at random, each time working with my wife and child, but always knowing my wife should still be pregnant.

    I experimented to discover there was a way to return to our time and place but woke before I could finish. I woke up crying. I lost my baby.

    Even in my dreams, I would do anything to save my child. These people are insane.

    May 24, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
  16. Apple Bush

    We can only hope that these parents kill themselves so there is no way they can have more victims.

    May 24, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  17. WhatintheWorld

    Disgusting. Chalk up another death to religion.

    May 24, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  18. Answer

    Hahaha.

    Good to see that the retards that go through prayer are punished. There goes your kid too. Whack jobs.

    May 24, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  19. Apple Bush

    The wrinkles in his fingers smelled of gasoline
    Tremble and swallow and wipe and push and beep
    The little smear looks more like a face than his face does
    Shut the visor. Up. Tap.
    He is staring at them and wondering. Do they have smears?
    He should have been smart enough to die before 50.
    He should have been just that stupid.
    Which pill switches this off?

    May 24, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  20. Robert

    For me this is no different than Warren Jeffs marrying underage girls. Just because you can claim that it is a part of your religion doesn't not make it any less illegal. Jeffs is guilty of, among other things, pedofilia. These two are guilty of child neglect.

    May 24, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • Even worse

      They'll all be in heaven. God is a loving and forgiving god. Good times.

      May 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @Rob................These people are your typical extreme whack jobs. You'd think they'd see the light after the first one died. I hope they sick. I'd throw them in front of a train.

      May 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Get sick

      May 24, 2013 at 9:30 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.