We’ve become accustomed to seeing those who abuse animals get away with little more than a slap on the wrist. When the victims of torture and killings are human, we typically see a much higher level of justice. But not always.
Two years ago in Philadelphia, a couple who prayed while their toddler suffered and died were sentenced to probation. Now, they’re accused of doing it again.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian outfit that relies on faith healing and preaches against the use of medicine and other mainstream health care. In 2009, their 2-year-old son, Kent, was allowed to die of bacterial pneumonia while his parents prayed over him. Even though they had killed the child just as surely as if they had put a plastic bag over his head and suffocated him, a judge not only gave them no jail time, but also allowed them to retain custody of their seven other children.
Then, they had another child, and that child fell ill, and despite their promises two years ago to seek traditional medical care for their children, they once again turned to prayer. And once again, it didn’t work. Eight-month-old Brandon Schaible, who had been suffering from diarrhea and breathing problems for at least a week, and had quit eating, died last week.
In what seems to be the perfect illustration of the term “too little, too late,” a judge on Tuesday revoked their probation. He declined to jail the Schaibles, but at least authorities have now removed their other children from their care, or lack thereof.
There’s an old saying that a leopard can’t change its spots. Surely the judge in 2011 must have had his doubts that “true believers” like the Schaibles would suddenly shuck off a lifetime of indoctrination and embrace modern medicine. There’s also an old saying that hindsight is 20/20. But there was no excuse for justice to be that blind two years ago.
According to an Associated Press report, the Schaibles had grown up as members of First Century Gospel Church and eventually became teachers there. On the church’s website is a sermon called “Healing – From God or Medicine?” It cites Bible verses that, in the church’s interpretation, ban Christians from seeing doctors or taking medicine.
The sermon says, in part, “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 AP report said the Schaibles’ attorney, Mythri Jayaraman, on Tuesday cautioned against a “rush to judgment,” even though the Schaibles reportedly admitted to investigators that they prayed for God to heal their son rather than seek medical care.
Said Jayaraman, “Whether their religion had anything to do with the death of their baby, we don’t know.”
What we can say, without fear of contradiction, is that it sure as heck didn’t help.
If they wish, the Schaibles are perfectly within their rights to believe that when they are ill, elves will come into their house at night and heal them, or that wearing a tinfoil hat while beseeching their chosen deity will cleanse their bodies of ailments. But when defenseless children are involved, parents must be compelled to seek legitimate medical attention for them, and they must know that failure to do so will bring severe punishment. They cannot be permitted the opportunity to repeatedly apply their clearly ineffective “healing” approach to children too young to care for themselves.
We can only hope that this time around, the Schaibles, if found guilty, get sentences commensurate with the horror of their crimes, and that their children will be placed in homes where the cycle of brainwashing that clearly afflicted the parents can be stopped.
Sadly, it will all be too little, too late for a sick and helpless 8-month-old boy who never had a chance.