A religious Pennsylvania couple that's already serving probation in connection with the 2009 death of their child could face jail time after they chose to pray instead of seeking medical attention for another son, who has also died.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible are members of a fundamentalist Christian church that believes faith healing will cure an ailment before modern medicine. Eight-month-old Brandon Schaible died last week after suffering from diarrhoea and breathing maladies. He had also stopped eating, and the Associated Press reported that Brandon’s sickness lasted for at least a week.
The couple was sentenced to 10 years’ probation after being convicted for involuntary manslaughter in the death of their 2-year-old son Kent, four years ago. Kent died after a similar sickness left him with a loss of appetite as well as congestion and heavy coughing.
Prosecutors said they were waiting for the autopsy report on Brandon’s death before deciding whether to press charges. They admitted in court Monday that they had prayed for their son’s good health instead of seeking out a doctor.
“You did that once, and the consequences were tragic,” said Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner. Lerner also told the couple “you are a danger to your children,” as quoted by the Philadelphia Daily News.
“There are way more questions than answers at this point. We haven’t seen the autopsy report. We don’t know the cause of death of this child,” said Mythri Jayaraman, Catherine Schaible’s attorney. “What we do know is Mr. and Mrs. Schaible are distraught, they are grieving, they are tremendously sad about the loss of their most recent baby.”
Lerner professed his sympathy for the parents but said the tragedy could have been avoided.
“I am sorry for their loss,” he said. “But in all
honesty, I am more sorry for the fact that this innocent little
child will not grow up to be what he wanted to be.”
The couple promised after their first son died that they would not rely on prayer over medicine in the future. Judge Lerner scolded them for “knowingly, intentionally, hypocritically and callously” violating the terms of their probation.
Prosecutors sought to keep the couple jailed until the autopsy concluded but Lerner ordered them free because their other seven children had been removed from the home. The Schaibles’ pastor said that they never received medical attention themselves, although they had brought their children in for regular checkups under the terms of the probation.
“Nobody argues that these aren’t very loving, nurturing parents,” said Jayaraman. “Whether their religion had anything to do with the death of their baby, we don’t know.”
The Schaible family attends First Century Gospel Church, where the parents have also worked as teachers. A sermon on the church’s website was titled “Healing – From God or Medicine?” with a message that bore resemblance to Brandon’s death.
“It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; and it is real faith to trust on the Name of Jesus for healing,” it said.