PHILADELPHIA – A couple serving probation for the 2009 death of their toddler after they turned to prayer instead of a doctor could face new charges now that another son has died.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian church that believes in faith healing. They lost their 8-month-old son, Brandon, last week after he suffered from diarrhea and breathing problems for at least a week, and stopped eating. Four years ago, another son died from bacterial pneumonia.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that a decision on charges will be made after they get the results of an autopsy.
Catherine Schaible’s attorney, Mythri Jayaraman, cautioned against a rush to judgment and said the couple are good parents deeply distraught over the loss of another child.
“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,” Jayaraman told the Associated Press. “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.”
A man who answered the phone at a listing for Herbert Schaible declined to comment and hung up.
A jury convicted the Schaibles of involuntary manslaughter in the January 2009 death of their 2-year-old son, Kent. The boy’s symptoms had included coughing, congestion, crankiness and a loss of appetite. His parents said he was eating and drinking until the last day, and they had thought he was getting better.
The Schaibles were sentenced to 10 years’ probation.
At a hearing Monday, a judge told the couple they had violated the terms of their probation, noting the Schaibles had told investigators that they prayed to God to make Brandon well instead of seeking medical attention.
“You did that once, and the consequences were tragic,” Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Prosecutors Monday sought to have the couple jailed, but Lerner permitted them to remain free because their seven other children had been placed in foster care.
“He feels they are a danger to their children – not to the community, but to their own children,” Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted the couple in 2010, said Tuesday.
Herbert Schaible, 44, and his 43-year-old wife grew up in First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia and have served as teachers there. The church’s website has a sermon titled “Healing – From God or Medicine?” that quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine.
“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,” says the message, from last May.
A phone message left with the church Tuesday was not immediately returned.
The church’s pastor said in 2010 that the couple had never received medical care themselves beyond the help of a lay midwife who attends home births.
The Schaibles did take their children for medical checkups as required by their probation, according to Jayaraman, the defense attorney. Jayaraman said that Brandon was checked by a doctor when he was 10 days old, but she did not know whether the child had seen a doctor since.
“Nobody argues that these aren’t very loving, nurturing parents,” she said Tuesday. “Whether their religion had anything to do with the death of their baby, we don’t know.”