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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
[twitter-follow screen_name='SarahHoyeCNN']

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. jack

    They look like simple white trash that cannot understand why their kids are dead.

    May 27, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Chris

      Absolutely!!

      May 27, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  2. 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.

    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. They wrapped the baby up and slid it down a plank into a raging bonfire.

    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 2:28 pm |
    • TeachRealTolerance

      This Christianity is the root of all evil argument is as old as the bible itself. Religion is not the problem; it's the abuse of religion that is the problem. The human mind is fallible, therefore Christians will always fall short of embodying perfect love. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try; we should continue to study history, look to scholarly leaders who are Christ-like while remembering that they will also err at times, and in "looking out for our brothers," help those who may be exploited. Thomas Jefferson, btw, was not renouncing Christianity in those words you use to support your argument, he was hoping to underscore society's oversight of God's Natural Law ("Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?).

      May 27, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Over 40,000 sects of insanity

      The argument is as old as the Bible because the conflict over interpretation is older than the Bible.

      Jefferson, of course had his own Bible. People will continue to argue how "Christian" he was because he was obviously affected by Deism like the other key framers were, although it is difficult to tell to what degree. Many Deists of that time did not believe in the divinity of Christ even though they may have thought Christ a good example. Deists also held that God was not active in their lives, but merely the Creator, then grand designer who set things in motion and then let things go to their own devices.

      The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

      Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.

      (John Adams, from "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America", 1788)

      May 27, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  3. just wondering

    Ignorance led to this child's death.... and they the parent's should spend a long time in prison... for letting a child die....,

    May 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  4. Evonix

    Shoot zem, shoot zem both.

    May 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  5. nancy hatcher

    The heading of the is article says "parents faith cause their child death" and I agree with that, it was THEIR faith and not faith which is based on the gospel so Jesus Christ. The bible teaches that everyone has a measure of faith to began with, it what we build that faith on that matter.......and in this case they build their faith on their own understanding and wisdom and not on the Godly wisdom and understanding which comes from God.

    May 27, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Maybe the woman is being punished for speaking in church...that's part of "gods wisdom" too
      corinthians 14:34-35

      May 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Same god, same faith; just a different interpretation of the scriptures.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Which "godly wisdom" you are apparently well endowed? Mindless balderdash!

      May 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Tom

      Granted it appears to be a mental issue with them, but the catalyst was faith. Some people take to brainwashing in different manners. Absolute faith is dangerous, as we can see happening in the Middle East. Sadly, if the child were to have survived, he most likely would have carried on this reckless ideology and threatened his own children. Even more sad is that their mental capacity is probably so low that they will still believe in god even though no god existed to save their child.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Tom: There is a video on this page-http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Faith-Healing-Churches-Linked-to-Two-Dozen-Child-Deaths-208745201.html, about this couple and another member of the church is interviewed...it appears they all think like this.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  6. skegeeace

    So tragic when people add things to God's word. There's NOTHING in the Bible against using a doctor. Nothing at all.

    May 27, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Brandon

      Therein lies the problem. Everyone has their own notion of what the ancient writings mean.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  7. Judy Mason

    When will religion wise up and tell parishioners that healing in the Bible is directly related to spiritual healing – not physical healing.

    May 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      That is one interpretation....check with the other 40,000 versions of christianity there are and see which ones line up with yours.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  8. Richard Hicks

    Place them in a cage of rattlesnakes and test their faith. LOL!

    May 27, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      See if they can pray away an IV full of bye-bye juice. They were certainly good at praying away the lives of their sons.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  9. Me

    They didn't cause his death; they just didn't act to try to prevent it. As a mother of a toddler, I have taken my child to the ER multiple times for a sudden rash, a high fever, a head bump, excessive vomiting. Each visit costs me well over $1000 which is rough on the budget. Each time, I was told "oh, it's just...." such and such and sent home with what was a normal childhood illness. (Which of course, as a first time parent, I don't really know.) After a while, you have to use some judgement and try to decide if something is worth an ER visit in the middle of the night or if you should way until day for a regular doctor. Is is going to go away on its own or does it need antibiotics? These questions are hard to answer sometimes. It usually seems like the minute I get to the doctor, he's acting fine again and I feel silly for overreacting. Every parent by now should know that it is pointless to try to treat the common cold. Antibiotics don't work against a virus and any modern doctor will send you home with instructions to rest and drink fluids. For all we know, the parents thought this was what was going on and had no idea how serious the issue was.

    May 27, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Did you read the article? They knew something was wrong. They sought help from a shaman. They engaged in the very behavior they were instructed not to by a court. If they had followed the court's instructions, most likely the child would be alive. If they didn't cause the infants death, who did – some god?

      May 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • Dan

      It was "just" this and " just" that because you did not let the child languish for days and progressively deteriorate. I these people had take their child to the doctor it would have "just been" treatable.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  10. Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

    Are any of you really shocked that people with a primitive belief system would do something that flies in the face of common sense?

    May 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      There is nothing shocking when stupid people behave stupidly.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  11. sad

    think of the pain the poor kid had to go thru – dumb parents

    May 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • sad

      now sit and pray for the rest of your life .. you guys dont deserve a kid ...

      May 27, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  12. us_1776

    Ban religion.

    The scourge of the human race.

    .

    May 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  13. Godoflunaticscreation

    http://youtu.be/Tr0UpQXYkGs

    May 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Arrested for being a pedo.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  14. mzfitz1215

    As jacked up as this is, 30 children in 42 years is not quite the epidemic they're trying to make it out to be.
    The parents are wrong and deserve to be punished, even if they didn't want to go to a doctor they could've at least tried homeopathic medicine.

    May 27, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • JWT

      The only thing homeopathy can cure is a mild case of thirst.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Whiteman

      You seem to think lightly of 30 children who died due to ignorance and stupidity; children who could easily have been saved. "Jacked up" you must be truly physcotic.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Jerome Haltom

      Homeopathy is just as effective as prayer. The same case would exist.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Anyone using or considering homeopathy should read "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  15. trollol

    -facepalm- What ever the hell happened to "god helps those who helps themselves"? Either I heard that from a religious nut job or it was the famous words of a kleptomaniac.

    May 27, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

      You know that’s not in the bible right?

      May 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  16. boom

    religion is a disease.

    May 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Jennifer

      It is not religion per se, it is how these people interpret the Bible. I am Christian and I believe in going to the doctors for illnesses. God gave the doctors the know how to learn about disease and how to help people who are sick. I believe God works through the doctors that way.

      I don't just blindly use my faith to think that God will heal me, I don't have to do anything but pray. It is a saying that God helps those that help themselves. Prayer does help, but also in conjunction with seeking proper medical aid.

      It is only a handful of Christians that believe that prayer only is the answer – don't think that all of us are like that.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

      @Jennifer

      Boom is correct. When you live your life based on faith then you are affectively abandoning reason. Religion IS a disease of the mind.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • However

      By your definition, End, art is also a disease.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

      I think you meant by THE definition.

      World English Dictionary
      faith

      1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence
      2. a specific system of religious beliefs: the Jewish faith
      3. Christianity trust in God and in his actions and promises

      May 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  17. 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.

    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. They wrapped the baby up and slid it down a plank into a raging bonfire.

    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 1:10 pm |
    • Science

      You know faith you are stuck in a big pile GREEN SLIME with NO horn-y red devil to save your ass.

      May 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |

      Agree ...............mama k............. everybody do a simple search for Prof. Higgs............the church hates that .

      A box does not work well for thinking.............think outside the box at http:/ted.com/talks

      Peace

      Hey faith/chad... and sally too........Thanks have a great life.

      http://www.wecanbeheroes.org/

      http://www.caterpillar.com/Foundation

      http://www.autismspeaks.org/

      http://www.hlntv.com/clusters/salute-troops

      https://www.zotero.org/colleengreene/items/5XRFKX8N

      Heaven for atheists? Pope sparks debate

      By Dan Merica, CNN

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

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/09/my-take-a-word-to-christians-be-nice/comment-page-44/#comment-2369235

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/23/the-money-man-behind-atheisms-activism/comment-page-77/#comment-2369249

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/21/who-hears-prayersforoklahoma/?replytocom=2369279#respond

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/19/proofs-of-heaven-popular-but-not-with-the-church/?replytocom=2366421#respond

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/24/has-the-oklahoma-atheist-been-saved/comment-page-2/#comment-2369325

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

      May 25, 2013 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |

      May 25, 2013 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |

      Hey doogie you too !

      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

      May 27, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  18. Alex

    Praying – how to do nothing and still think you're helping

    May 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  19. Archyle

    Anyone who believes that God is soveriegn, myself included, believe that he has given us the advances in medical care that we can take advantage of in faith to stay alive when we acquire diseases that are curable.

    May 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Quite obviously, these parents and their pastor disagree.

      May 27, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  20. Trish

    So they lost a child in 2009 to the same ailment and that didn't teach them that maybe God gave them a second chance to save this child through medicine?! Sad that their love and faith in God outweighs their love for their own child.

    May 27, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • boom

      religion is a virus

      May 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Dan

      No it didn't. They are totally irrational. They may see no connection between their failure to help their first child and their failure to help the second. In their view, perhaps, it was not God's will That either child live.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
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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.