WASHINGTON, February 19, 2014— A Pennsylvania couple is facing up to 20 years in prison after a second child has died in their care.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible will be sentenced Wednesday for the death of their eight month old child, Brandon, who died last year after they refused to seek medical treatment for him. At the time of Brandon’s death, the couple was on a ten year probation after the death of their two year old son Kent who died from pneumonia in 2009.
Part of the probation agreement was that the Schaible’s were to seek immediate medical care for any of their remaining eight children became ill. After Brandon’s death, a judge found them in violation of their parole.
Faith healing is widely practiced by Christian Scientists, Pentecostalists, the Church of the First Born, the Followers of Christ, and a variety of smaller sects. Many of the followers of these churches refuse to consult science based medical doctors instead treating illness with prayer, anointing with oils and sometimes exorcisms.
Until recently, protection of religious freedom laws have protected these families from prosecution. However, public opinion and state laws are changing leading to charges of neglect, even homicide, when parents refuse medical treatment for their children.
In 1974 the Christian Scientist Church persuaded the Nixon administration to pressure states into passing religious exemptions to child neglect laws, which 43 states did. The administration tied federal money to the exemptions. By 1983 the federal money connection was removed and states started to modify their child neglect exception policies.
Today although virtually every state has some religious exception, such as policies that do not require immunizations if it is against a family’s religion, only about eight states have a homicide or manslaughter exemption.
The Schaible’s have pleaded no contest to third degree murder in their son Brandon’s death. Prosecutors described Brandon’s illness symptoms as extremely similar to the symptoms of their son Kent’s and which ultimately led to Kent’s death.
“We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power,” Herbert Schaible said in a 2013 police statement. “Medicine”, he said, “is against our religious beliefs.”
Their pastor, Nelson Clark, has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives and insisted they would not seek medical care even if another child appeared near death.
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