Courts Decide in Clash Between Spiritual Healing and Medical Neglect
Feb 21, 2014

Since we are currently hosting a popular blog series that focuses on the rights of the unvaccinated child, I felt this recent case being reported out of Pennsylvania this week may be relevant to the overall discussion.

schaibleThe case pertains to a couple by the name of Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who are third generation members of the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia.  Back in April 2013, the Huffington Post reported that the church’s website included a sermon entitled “Healing – From God or Medicine?” which quoted Bible verses that purportedly forbid Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine.  It was reported as stating,

“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.”

As a result of their participation in this fundamentalist church, the Schaible’s have relied completely on faith healing throughout their own lives and in the care of their nine children.  But this has proven to be disastrous.

In 2009 their two-year old son Kent died from bacterial pneumonia which resulted in the couple being convicted of involuntary manslaughter.  In 2011 they were sentenced to 10 years’ probation and received a court order which mandated they take their children to get annual checkups and call a doctor if a child became ill.

Unfortunately, they failed to adhere to the court order and in 2013 their 8-month-old son Brandon also died of treatable pneumonia.  The couple now face a three and a half to seven-year prison sentence for the religion-based medical neglect of their son.  While six of their seven surviving children are now in foster care or are residing with relatives and are receiving medical, dental, and vision care, these medical precautions come too late to have saved Kent and Brandon.

It’s clear that this couple wholeheartedly believed that they were doing what was best for their children.  In a police statement last year, the Los Angeles Times reported Herbert Schaible as saying,

“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.”

So instead of getting medical care, the couple tried to comfort and pray over their son to heal his illness.  But the consequences were arguably avoidable if given the proper medical attention and in the resulting court case the judge rejected the claim that the Schaibles’ religious beliefs “clashed” with child welfare laws and declared the parents responsible.  The Medical Daily explains the legalities of the case as follows:

“While the government protects the constitutional right to freedom of religious expression and practice, it is also responsible for enforcing child welfare laws. Believers of faith healing, like the Schiables, claim a clash exists when they choose other spiritual healing practices rather than traditional medical care to treat children’s illnesses. If the parents’ decision harms the minor, it is up to the courts to decide a balance between these two laws.”

According to CHILD, Inc, an organization founded to protect children from harmful religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect, the states that allow a religious defense to most serious crimes against children include: Idaho, Iowa, and Ohio with religious defenses to manslaughter; West Virginia with religious defenses to murder of a child and child neglect resulting in death; and Arkansas with a religious defense to capital murder.

With the Associated Press reporting that approximately a dozen U.S. children die in faith healing cases each year, it’s easy to see how pertinent this case is to the legal conversation is to our society today.

Next week we will resume our special legal blog series by exploring criminal sanctions in cases where a purposely unvaccinated child was seriously injured or killed by a vaccine-preventable disease.  We hope you will follow along and participate in this important conversation. 

Related Posts

This guest post was written by Alethea Mshar out of concern for her son Ben.  A version of this post originally appeared on her blog Ben’s Writing, Running Mom. Like all parents, my child’s health...

Every Child By Two asks you to join in urging Congress to protect crucial funding for immunization programs.  Politics aside, if and when the Affordable Care Act is repealed, nearly $600 million in funds...

11 responses to “Courts Decide in Clash Between Spiritual Healing and Medical Neglect”

  1. Lawrence says:

    If the parents neglect to seek medical attention for their child, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law……regardless of their beliefs.

  2. reissd says:

    In Prince v. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court said: “arents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”. Very true words, I think.

  3. reissd says:

    Should be “parents”

  4. vpdfree says:

    I agree with you both 100%. That story was appalling! Where were the child protective services when they were gravely needed?

    Sane parents do NOT allow their children to go without medical interventions, and even when cost is an issue, there are programs that can help get the child the treatments needed.

    The parents in the article appear to certainly be lacking in the significant mental capacity to be responsible for two children.

    This is upsetting and heartbreaking. This is why involving child protective agencies of the state to intervene for the sake of failure to vaccinate, will take away from those in immediate crisis and in need of the state case workers, who are already overburdened.

    While people like these two in the Pa. case, should be locked away for life for such crimes, most cps will not even investigate a report that lists failure to vaccinate as the only issue. However, it makes sense to not negate the intervention of the children in current dire need, and in imminent danger, while creating more atrocious situations such as the one above.

  5. lilady says:

    It would seem that the Schaibles got a pass from the court, for the death of their first child and the opportunity to neglect and kill another child. Would the court have given foster parents the opportunity to neglect and kill another child, entrusted to their care? I don’t think so.

  6. […] tragic case being reported from Pennsylvania involves a religious couple who are members of a Christian fundamentalist church in Northeast […]

  7. Paul says:

    The inaction of the parents in this case is certainly not justifiable, but the record of conventional medicine isn’t great either:

  8. Lawrence says:

    @Paul – that is more an argument for a National Health Care system than any indictment of the treatments themselves. We also tend to take extraordinary measures to keep people alive in instances, where just a few decades ago, these individuals would have been beyond hope…..conventional medicine today is among the many reasons we see people living longer, healthier lives than in the past.

    People who reject medicine, especially in cases of sick children, can and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  9. […] This tragic case being reported from Pennsylvania involves a religious couple who are members of a Christian fundamentalist church in Northeast Philadelphia, a church that has been documented as delivering sermons that forbid their members from visiting doctors or taking medicines, and advocate reliance upon prayer and “Faith Healing” for treatment of diseases. Their sermons even include a proscription against buying liability, health or any other kind of insurance. [Read more] […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.