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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. Gill

    These are the types of stories that when I read them I literally can't believe it. For those of you that ask "What is wrong with religion?"...THIS is what is wrong with religion. When a child dies that can be saved because his parents believe that it is better to pray for him than give him the proper treatment goes to show that something is seriously wrong with religious belief to this extreme. I have no issues or problems with people choosing to believe in what they want because I would not want someone degrading me for not believing in God. However if your beliefs stretch so far that someone dies because of it than that is a serious problem.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  2. Maryanne

    Using children to test a god's power and active involvement with humanity is beyong ludicrous and borders on insanity. Religion proves to be a fail once again.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      wouldn't be new for religion, using/sacrificing children. Abraham was going to murder his own child because God supposedly told him to. there is a pslam about "blessed is he that dashes the little one's heads against the rocks." meant for the enemies' children, but still orders for infanticide. God also killed all the first born male children in egypt to punish the pharoah for not releasing the Jews. pretty harsh, God targeting defenseless children is disgusting, yet we can find example after example in the bible.

      religion makes people do crazy things.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • mama k

      There was a sect in Chile, South America late last year (November) who sacrificed a baby to a bonfire. The sect leader of this group comprised of mostly professionals had convinced the mother of the baby that the baby was an antichrist, and the mother agreed that the baby should be sacrificed up to God.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Oh, shove it up your fundament, captain asshole.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      our "perverted agenda" includes more education, less superst.ition - which would have saved this child.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      @faith
      "they were not defenseless"

      you sound as insane as the two parents who let their child die. children that weren't defenseless? you actually approve of god murdering children? you call it divine justice? you're a great example of how religion warps the mind.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      56,000,000 abortions, 70% had by believers. Who is drowning in blood?

      May 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  3. Lindalou

    Pray to God to guide you to the right doctor with the right medicine. God gave us the knowledge to fix people in the likeness of doctors, nurses, p.a.'s, etc. You might as well be praying to the neighbor's cat, give God credit for blessing us with medical healers, not faith healers. There's a time and a place for both.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • straighttalk

      Off to jail for these two fanatics. Leave God out of this please they are a couple of ignorant fanatics. 25-to life would be a good measure.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      sounds like you're almost there. take the next step and get rid of god altogether. he's unnecessary to the equation. you don't need to thank an invisible sky fairy for anything. thank the humans that have acc.umulated medical knowledge over centuries, humans that have taken the years necessary to complete medical training, thank the professors that taught them, thank the inventors/engineers that have made numerous machines that keep us alive. all human.

      god has nothing to do with it. you're still recommending superst.ition over education. look up Occam's Razor.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Yet for the vast majority of humankind, reliable medical healers did not exist. Another of god's mysterious ways!

      May 27, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

      More religious nonsense. God didn’t GIVE us any such thing. You can argue about a great many things when it comes to YOUR version of god/gods but not this one. WE had to learn for ourselves the hard way how to treat illness and we are still learning. This is a factual statement that can be backed up with empirical evidence, can you say they same? No. Ludicrous comments like this are an insult to everyone who died before we found the cure and those who will continues to die until we find the next one. Moron.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      And how many died because some alleged god designed in a long, hard learning curve? Something else not to thank some alleged god for.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  4. Bootyfunk

    "With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
    - Steven Weinburg

    in this case, it's more:
    With or without it you would have educated people doing competent things and uneducated people doing ignorant things. But for educated people to do ignorant things, that takes religion.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  5. Bob

    Chad, time for you to spend more time reviewing this. Really, get on it and read, and try harder to think it through:

    I have already spoken about your context problem. You obviously haven't understood, so read this again. Do try to think it through for a change:

    If you disagree with my interpretation of your nasty holy book AKA the bible, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.

    So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    May 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  6. Felix Sinclair

    I wonder if they'll have enough faith to forgo legal representation.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  7. muri

    How's that "pro-life" thing working out? Or more accurately – anti-choice. If it were up to me, you'd have all the choice in the world to keep doing this as much as you wanted.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  8. Robin Bray

    Kill them all and let evolution sort them out.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  9. Lemmon

    I wonder if they would go for treatment themselves if it meant the difference between living and dying.
    Just sad – sad – sad

    May 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  10. whitepine

    Actually, it was God's action and decision. People need to realize is that man and his medicine that is saving lives. Without it, people, children and babies die. Before modern medicine, God killed millions of women in childbirth and millions of young children died of diseases which we have medicine to cure. For the religious, where is the line...using modern medicine in your life to improve your life or just let nature (God) take it's course? This includes such things as birth control, abortion, viagra....all medicines and modern science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of our family. l

    May 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  11. boredofceleb

    This couple (and those like them) should be "medically" rendered infertile to ensure that they will never reproduce again.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Toilet safety admin

      Yeah but imagine how scary it would be to give government that kind of power.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Maryanne

      Toilet....., its' scarier to think these misguided folks could reproduce again and once more mortally neglect another innocent child.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      You can be guaranteed these two will never get the chance to. 🙂

      May 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • alluringalura

      Actually in response to a different response...government DID actually do that. In Sanatoriums and hospitals the nation over...check this history of Vermont, 1930's and how women who were deemed "hysterical" were sterilized...

      May 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      "American eugenics refers inter alia to compulsory sterilization laws adopted by over 30 states that led to more than 60,000 sterilizations of disabled individuals. Many of these individuals were sterilized because of a disability: they were mentally disabled or ill, or belonged to socially disadvantaged groups living on the margins of society. American eugenic laws and practices implemented in the first decades of the twentieth century influenced the much larger National Socialist compulsory sterilization program, which between 1934 and 1945 led to approximately 350,000 compulsory sterilizations and was a stepping stone to the Holocaust. Even after the details of the Nazi sterilization program (as well as its role as a precursor to the "Euthanasia" murders) became more widely known after World War II (and which the New York Times had reported on extensively and in great detail even before its implementation in 1934), sterilizations in some American states did not stop. Some states continued to sterilize residents into the 1970s."
      (http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/)

      May 27, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • .

      liar prefails if its American its none of your fvcking business no one want your bull sh it there why would you think we would have a use for your crap

      May 27, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      CA: Extra day away from the institution???

      May 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  12. VerySad

    They should have had their children taken after the first one died. Those two kids died for nothing except blind faith. When God doesn't answer their prayers, he's 'punishing' them for lack of faith. SO HE PUNISHED THE TWO KIDS TOO, HUH?! Ludicrous. And that one idiot has been posting "Atheism is dangerous to children". So tacky and delusional. Prayer didn't change a thing here, did it? Kid just died because he didn't get medical attention. It had nothing to do with faith or God, and that is 100% the TRUTH. Fevorently religious people are scary delusional.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  13. IslandAtheist

    Nothing fails like prayer.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Elley

      I agree with you 100%!

      May 27, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Nursehope

      I disagree. I prayed to the flying spaghetti monster and he sent me (telepathically) a killer recipe for linguini and white clam sauce!!!

      May 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  14. BlackIsland

    He’s incarcerated because of his faith.”

    This is what the lawyer is trying to say!

    They are not in jail because of their religion. If non-religeous parents allowed their child to die due to lack of care, they would also be in jail. They are in jail becuase they neglected their child and did not attend to the illness that could have been cured with a Dr's care. How many more times are the authorities going to let a little child die in agony before someone takes some snippers to both of them?

    May 27, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Children die all the while but only through the powers televised does the fulcrum go to and forth in personalized representational euphemisms. Naturalized deaths are a common occurrence so why the bellyache from such normality? Oh, I see. The parents' ineptness and their lacking to seek a physician's forte whenever a child becomes sickened with a commonly curable illness is the crux of socialisms wanting for bloodletting from the parents. Be glad or being very sad for goodness sakes for vengeance is the socialized option in a world weary and forlorn. Death is a release from fleshly bondages. All souls shall forever perish and all spirits do forever soar! It is the body's inhabited sons of the Gods decisiveness action or inaction to give or not: new life to our passing away brethren for your turn to die will come soon enough! Naturally or unnatural occurrences thru deadliness; stands in defensive posturing of alluring entanglements within societal normality and still yet the abnormality of rationalisms does call out for blood. Barabbas would be quite proud!

      May 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Why are you getting treatment and medication for your schizophrenia? Isn't your disease "natural"?

      Moron.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      TrT,

      Did I say in the above post any relational reasoning for the denials for any sickness and/or ailment to be seeking a physician? I was making an attempt to show readers that there are issues to be dealt with and duly considered. Your wanting for bloodletting in the here and now will in no way shape or form be overtaking the judgment of God, the finalities of all humanisms' justice. The crowds shout out for bloodletting and they will get that which their worldly wants adheres. The lack of seeing a physician is tantamount to blasphemies appearances ever rising up from the very depths of human conditioning.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • The real Tom

      And that big bowl of stupid, Loopy? Totally unintelligible. I have no idea what you intended to say and really couldn't care less. You claim that disease is a way of thinning the herd and that nobody should be prosecuted for neglecting this child. Why don't you help thin the herd? Do your part. Stop supporting your alcoholic brother. Stop providing for him. Stop taking medication to alleviate the symptoms of your own disease. Why not? If it's good enough for the Schaible's child, then it's good enough for you.

      May 27, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  15. boredofceleb

    How very tragic. I don't believe there's anything in the Bible that would refer to not seeking medical treatment for an illness.....so their act was based on their OWN assumption. Where can they cite that it is a "sin" to receive medical help? They SHOULD be prosecuted. And they probably have a good case for pleading insanity.

    May 27, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  16. ddrew78

    I love how they pray for God to provide a cure for their sick child. Do they not realize that God has provided us with Doctors and Medicines for our ills?

    May 27, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  17. VerySad

    You know these idiots probably think God is punishing them for something. Unbelievable naive and ignorant. That poor child. Where is that moron who used to post that atheism is harmful to children. At least atheists understand when a child needs medical attention and can be saved without divine intervention. That kid died for nothing. NOTHING, except blind faith. They belong in jail. Wisen up. Same morons who believe in freewill, but somehow God will intervene everytime they need something. I'll be glad when this sort of stupidity is weeded out of the gene pool.

    May 27, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  18. Over 40,000 sects of insanity

    When incidents like the subject of this article come to light, many Christians are only too ready to try explain how another Christian's interpretation of ancient "scripture" is not quite right.

    One sect calls homosexuality an abomination while the next one (over 4,000,000 members) in the same denomination is already performing gay marriage. One sect, the Westboro Baptist Church believes Americans are being killed at war because America is too kind to "fags". Many of these sects are equally divergent on the roles of women in society.

    One sect believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers and that Christ will return to Jerusalem AND Jackson County, Missouri. Some believe the Pope is the Antichrist. Some believe Obama is the Antichrist.

    Some believe that celibacy is the only option for certain people, or for people in certain positions. Many of the people from these same institutions advocate against abortion, but pretend not to understand the realistic benefit of the morning after pill or even basic contraception; their unrealistic wishful thinking is causing the death of many at the hands of disease.

    Conflicted right from the start, Christianity continues to splinter, creating more and more extreme divisions, with each division trying to assert itself as some true messenger of the word of the Christian God.

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    (Thomas Jefferson, from Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785)

    May 27, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Science

      GOOD NEWS...............faith the peachy one......chad too.......you know all creationists too story = truth !

      http://www.ibtimes.com/atheists-fight-gideon-bibles-books-christopher-hitchens-richard-dawkins-georgia-state-parks-
      1271125

      Science books and education TRUMPS the 666 beast and the red horn-y devil !

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/05/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority/

      Have a great life and Memorial day.

      Peace

      PS...........by the way there has NEVER been a red horn-y devil.

      May 27, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  19. Elysé

    Maybe these people didn't know that even God even gave a medecine to King Hezekiah

    May 27, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  20. Over 40,000 sects of insanity

    When incidents like the subject of this article come to light, many Christians are only too ready to try explain how another Christian's interpretation of ancient "scripture" is not quite right.

    One sect calls homosexuality an abomination while the next one (over 4,000,000 members) in the same denomination is already performing gay marriage. One sect, the Westboro Baptist Church believes Americans are being killed at war because America is too kind to "fags". Many of these sects are equally divergent on the roles of women in society.

    One sect believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers and that Christ will return to Jerusalem AND Jackson County, Missouri. Some believe the Pope is the Antichrist. Some believe Obama is the Antichrist.

    Some believe that celibacy is the only option for certain people, or for people in certain positions. Many of the people from these same institutions advocate against abortion, but pretend not to understand the realistic benefit of the morning after pill or even basic contraception; their unrealistic wishful thinking is causing the death of many at the hands of disease.

    Conflicted right from the start, Christianity continues to splinter, creating more and more extreme divisions, with each division trying to assert itself as some true messenger of the word of the Christian God.

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    (Thomas Jefferson, from Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785)

    May 27, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Science

      GOOD NEWS...............faith the peachy one......chad too.......you know all creationists too story = truth !

      http://www.ibtimes.com/atheists-fight-gideon-bibles-books-christopher-hitchens-richard-dawkins-georgia-state-parks-
      1271125

      Science books and education TRUMPS the 666 beast and the red horn-y devil !

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/05/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority/

      have a great life

      Peace

      May 27, 2013 at 11:17 am |
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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.