Couple sentenced to 10 years probation in faith healing death of son

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A fundamentalist Christian couple who tried relying on prayer to cure their dying toddler must take their remaining children for medical check-ups as part of their sentence, a US judge has ruled.

The Philadelphia judge also sentenced Herbert and Catherine Schaible to 10 years of probation, AP reports.

They were convicted in December of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in the pneumonia death of their 2-year-old son, Kent.

According to NBC Philadelphia:

Prosecutors said the child could have been saved with basic medical care — probably even over-the-counter medication — but the couple relied on prayer instead. Defense attorneys argued that their clients did not know how sick the child was, and their beliefs played no role in their decision.
      
Experts say about a dozen U.S. children die in faith-healing cases each year.

The couple, who are lifelong members of the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia, have seven other children, the Philadelphia Citypaper writes:

Several undated sermons on the First Century Gospel Church’s website speak directly about the church’s opposition to doctors and medicine.

“Our life must be committed to God without compromise, and our will is to be His will in everything,” according to one sermon. “That commitment to God means we are to trust God alone for physical healing without the use of medicine, drugs, prescriptions, human remedies, or a doctor.”

The term ‘faith healing’ refers to healing that occurs supernaturally — as the result of prayer rather than the use of medicines or the involvement of physicians or other medical care.

But while faith healings do take place today just as they did in the early Christian church, the teachings of some churches, movements and individuals on this subject amount to spiritual abuse.

Legitimate churches and movements do not equal using drugs or receiving proper medical attention with unbelief, insufficient faith, or otherwise sinning against God.

The Associated Press says:

Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engel Temin said that, as adults, the couple is entitled to follow church teachings shunning medicine, which is seen as a lack of faith in God.

But the law says parents may not make that decision for their children.

“The welfare of the child is more important than the religious freedom of the parents,” Temin said. […]

Temin said she wrestled with the sentence, noting that prison would not address the problem or serve the needs of society. Both parents have been described as upstanding citizens and pillars of their community, Temin said.

Herbert Schaible teaches school at the church while his wife stays at home. Both are the eldest of nine children in families who belong to the church as well, the judge said.

The Schaibles have never had medical care, except for a midwife who attends home births, according to pastor Nelson A. Clark. He said the congregation has about 500 members.

Research resources on faith healing

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016