A Pennsylvania couple that believe in faith healing over medicine, have been charged with murder in the death of their 7-month-old son -- their second infant child to die from a treatable illness within the past four years.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible are members of a fundamentalist church in northeast Philadelphia where illness is seen as a sign of the devil that should be treated through prayer not modern medicine, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In April, their 7-month-old son, Brandon, died from pneumonia after his parents witnessed the baby struggle to breathe and suffer from diarrhea for days. In 2009, their 2-year-old son, Kent, died from "eerily similar" circumstances, WPVI reports.
"How many kids have to die before it becomes extreme indifference to human life?" First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann said. "They killed one kid already."
On Friday, a Philadelphia judge ordered the couple to be held on $250,000 bail each. They can’t post bail until their next hearing on June 14.
"I am sorry for your loss. Deeply sorry," Judge Benjamin Lerner told the Schaibles. "But in all honesty, I am more sorry for the fact that this innocent little child will not be able to grow up to be what he wanted to be."
When baby Brandon died, the funeral home notified the Medical Examiner’s Office who performed an autopsy. Before the results, the Schaibles gave statements to the police where they both explained their belief that prayer was the best medicine for Brandon, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
In 2009, a jury convicted the couple of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The Schaibles were sentenced to 10 years of probation. One of the conditions was that the couple would seek medical care for their remaining children.
The Schaibles belong to the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia that supports faith healing. In a church document called “Healing -- From God or Medicine?” the church pulls Bible verses to explain that prayer heals the sick, not medicine.
“God promises to heal us, if we will make the choice to believe and trust Him in faith; not distrust Him and depend on a drug in unbelief,” the pamphlet says. “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.”
The church’s leader, Pastor Nelson Clark, said that God didn’t want the children to die, but their fates were caused by a “spiritual lack” in their parents’ lives, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Clark says that despite the murder charge, Herbert Schaible will continue to turn to prayer if any of his other six children got sick.
"He would confess his sins and repent to God and ask for a healing touch," Clark said.
First Century Gospel Church and Faith Tabernacle Congregation are both faith-healing churches in the Phildelphia area. Since 1971, more than two dozen children have been lost between the two churches, according to the nonprofit, Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. In 1991 during a measles outbreak, five children from Faith Tabernacle died.
Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, says a parent’s faith should not interfere with their child’s well-being, he told NBC 10.
“Although, you are allowed to martyr yourself to your religion, you are not allowed to martyr your child to your religion,” he said.