Religion Kills Another Child

A Christian couple in Pennsylvania who were on probation for involuntary manslaughter after one of their children died because they refused to take them to a doctor has now had another child die for the same reason. Their seven other children have now been removed:

When a judge sentenced Herbert and Catherine Schaible to probation in 2011 for praying over their gravely ill toddler son instead of taking him to a doctor, Herbert Schaible offered a few brief words of remorse and grief, then entrusted his family’s fate to a higher power.

“With God’s help, this will never happen again,” Schaible told the court.

On Monday, a different judge said that it did happen again, that the Schaibles – members of a Juniata Park church that shuns medical care – admitted to police that they once again chose prayer over medicine for a dying child.

This time, the little boy’s name was Brandon. He was 8 months old when he died in his home Thursday after days of labored breathing, fitful sleep, crying, and diarrhea, a prosecutor said.

“When you were asked by police why you didn’t call a doctor, you both responded, separately, with the same answer,” Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner said during a probation-violation hearing, referring to sealed statements the couple made to police.

“Because we believe God wants us to ask him for healing,” Lerner quoted from the statements. “Our religion tells us not to call a doctor.”

They have not yet been charged in this death but they likely will be. Astonishingly, Pennsylvania law explicitly exempts such parents from being considered abusive:

If, upon investigation, the county agency determines that a child has not been provided needed medical or surgical care because of seriously held religious beliefs of the child’s parents, guardian or person responsible for the child’s welfare, which beliefs are consistent with those of a bona fide religion, the child will not be deemed to be physically or mentally abused. The county agency shall closely monitor the child and shall seek court-ordered medical intervention when the lack of medical or surgical care threatens the child’s life or long-term health. In cases involving religious circumstances, all correspondence with a subject of the report and the records of the Department and the county agency may not reference ‘‘child abuse’’ and shall acknowledge the religious basis for the child’s condition, and the family shall be referred for general protective services, under Subchapter C of the CPSL (relating to general protective services), if appropriate.

This is another example of the danger of giving special protection to religious beliefs, as though they were somehow better than non-religious beliefs. A parent who refused to get medical treatment for their child for a non-religious reason would certainly be considered abusive. And the fact that we can’t even imagine a non-religious basis for such belief is exactly why religious beliefs should not be singled out for protection.

34 comments on this post.
  1. Raging Bee:

    How is this not “establishment of religion?”

  2. matty1:

    The story is so horrible I’m going to nit pick instead of addressing the main point.

    we can’t even imagine a non-religious basis [for refusing medical treatment]

    For refusing all treatment maybe not but as the anti-vaccine movement shows there are plenty of cases of a particular treatment being refused for non religious reasons.

  3. alanb:

    Their church has a website at http://www.fcgchurch.org/. There are a number of articles outlining their beliefs. I haven’t found one specifically on medical care yet, but I did see one saying that Christians should trust in God rather than buying insurance.

  4. composer99:

    Simply appalling.

    (Also, how would Pennsylvania law decide what’s a bona fide religion? That strikes me as crossing the line set by the establishment clause.)

  5. sivivolk:

    I have the same question as composer99 – how can they determine what is a “bona fide” religion without violating the establishment clause?

  6. raven:

    It’s just a common fundie xian ritual.

    Human child sacrifice to their Sky Monster god.

    The number isn’t too well known but they do around 100 of these a year.

    BTW, faith healers sacrificing more than one child isn’t that unusual. I looked once and found without much trouble, other cases where families had killed two of their kids.

    Their seven other children have now been removed:

    Well, at least they are thinking ahead. They’ve got plenty of spare children.

  7. Synfandel:

    What will become of their next child–number ten?

  8. Ben P:

    (Also, how would Pennsylvania law decide what’s a bona fide religion? That strikes me as crossing the line set by the establishment clause.)

    It’s permissible in the same way federal courts evaluate whether you have a sincerely held religious belief.

    They don’t get to consider the validity of your religious belief, but they can look at for example, whether you suddenly “found a religion that allows you to use cocaine” when you’re charged with cocaine possession. etc.

  9. D. C. Sessions:

    Well, at least they are thinking ahead. They’ve got plenty of spare children.

    Well, that and undobtedly they also subscribe to the “if God didn’t want us to make more babies, he wouldn’t have given me a stiffy” doctrine.

  10. Gretchen:

    Ben P said:

    They don’t get to consider the validity of your religious belief, but they can look at for example, whether you suddenly “found a religion that allows you to use cocaine” when you’re charged with cocaine possession. etc.

    Well, except that convenience doesn’t disqualify sincerity. It makes it highly suspicious, but doesn’t disqualify it.

    But more to the point, it shouldn’t matter. Whether you have a sincerely-held religious belief in a cocaine-using religion or not has precisely fuck-all to do with whether you should be allowed to possess and use it.

  11. Ben P:

    What will become of their next child–number ten?

    Well, I suspect the specific protection for this religious belief in Pennsylvania law protects them as to other children, because the actions can’t be considered neglect or abuse. I can virtually guarantee that DCFS would be watching the family like a hawk even if the parents aren’t put in prison for this.

    But in my state for example, all 8-9-? of the other kids would be picked up and put in foster care based on the fact that there was severe abuse of one of their siblings. That would probably be enough, right of hte bat, even to argue their parental rights should be terminated and to free up the kids to be adopted by someone else. Otherwise they’d go through the typical process of the parents coming to routine hearings with a judge ensuring they’re reforming properly and if they demonstrate progress, the kids get returned.

  12. Ben P:

    Well, except that convenience doesn’t disqualify sincerity. It makes it highly suspicious, but doesn’t disqualify it.

    But more to the point, it shouldn’t matter. Whether you have a sincerely-held religious belief in a cocaine-using religion or not has precisely fuck-all to do with whether you should be allowed to possess and use it.

    I used cocaine specifically because I’m not aware of any religion that does, but you’re wrong as a matter of law.

    The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The net effect is any laws which burden a sincerely held religious belief are subject to strict scrutiny.

    In Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006) the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a federal law (and associated regulations) prohibiting the possession and use of psychoactive tea (Ahuyasca) e as it pertained to its use in religious ceremonies. There are likewise similar exceptions for Peyote.

  13. bornagainatheist:

    If they aren’t child abusers under Pennsylvania law, then why were the remaining children taken away? Seems to me that law is putting all the responsibility for the deaths of the children on the state because the state wasn’t monitoring the situation.

  14. Ben P:

    If they aren’t child abusers under Pennsylvania law, then why were the remaining children taken away? Seems to me that law is putting all the responsibility for the deaths of the children on the state because the state wasn’t monitoring the situation.

    Reading the source article, it contains an important clue.

    DHS social workers had visited the Schaible home the day after Kent’s death in 2009, according to a state-mandated death review.

    The other children in the home were not sick, the review states.

    DHS closed the case five days after Kent Schaible’s death because the agency could not intervene based on a family’s religious beliefs ,b>alone, the state review reported.

    Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law includes a religious exemption for instances in which parents neglect children’s medical needs because of religious beliefs. Those faith-based cases cannot be labeled child abuse – a categorization many advocates feel prevents children from getting needed services.

    While the exemption limits DHS oversight, it does not prohibit the agency from any involvement with the family, said DHS spokeswoman Alicia Taylor.

    Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, said that a judge could require a defendant’s cooperation with DHS as a condition of sentencing and that “DHS is generally willing to support the court’s efforts.”

    DHS was prohibited from investigating “abuse” when the reason for that was that the parents had a religious objection to providing professional medical care. However, that doesn’t mean that a court can’t find that the home presents a health or safety danger to the child and order the Department to take them into care.

  15. Gretchen:

    Ben P said:

    but you’re wrong as a matter of law.

    Oh, I know. It’s yet another example of the law considering religion special, and I’m saying it should stop.

  16. MikeMa:

    I was living in the Philly area when the first case was decided and distinctly remember telling my wife that these loons hadn’t sworn off their religion so the next kid with diabetes or cancer or asthma was going to suffer the same fate. I hate being right on this.

    Wouldn’t the fact that the second child died reduce the bona fide nature of this church? If their god is supposed to provide healing and doesn’t, that makes their religion false. And no longer a protection against abuse.

  17. jameshanley:

    So two of their children died despite their prayers? Maybe that’s God’s way of saying, “You’re in the wrong fucking religious group, you asshats.”

  18. kevinbeck:

    Why is it always twits like this who insist on having about 73 children?

  19. slc1:

    Involuntary manslaughter my ass, these cretins should be charged with 2nd degree murder and sent away to the slammer for life.

  20. Raging Bee:

    Quite frankly, I suspect these parents (and others who act like them) had a desire — conscious or unconscious, acknowledged or unacknowledged — to get rid of kids they either didn’t want or can’t properly care for. Their religion forbade birth control and gave women no rightful role other than making babies, to this is their compensation: let the unwanted kids die and pretend their religion commanded it, just as it commanded them to make them in the first place.

  21. D. C. Sessions:

    Ben P: regardless of the sincerity of their religious beliefs, is there a basis for considering the household to be a threat to the lives of the children living there? Or does the Pennsylvania law bar any consideration of that kind?

  22. Sastra:

    MikeMa #16 wrote:

    Wouldn’t the fact that the second child died reduce the bona fide nature of this church? If their god is supposed to provide healing and doesn’t, that makes their religion false.

    You forget the slippery nature of religious “truth.”

    I have a friend who was seriously considering becoming a faith healer. She isn’t a fundamentalist Christian — her perspective comes from a new-agey spin on A Course in Miracles and is based on the belief (assertion) that all sickness is rooted in a mind which has lost recognition of spiritual perfection. However, she was consulting with Christian Scientists and other more traditional faith healers. To her, it was all good. Faith is such a positive, powerful thing.

    I asked her what would happen to her beliefs about the true path to health if someone used faith healing on a child and — because of that — the child died. She said that lots of kids die even when they are treated with mainstream Western medicine. I re-stated the question: no, I wasn’t talking about a case where the likelihood was that the child would have died no matter what you did. I wanted to know what she thought about a case where there was a safe, recognized remedy in the medical profession and the parents instead chose to treat their child with prayer and faith — and as a result the child died.

    Her response floored me. She said that my world view was different than hers. In her paradigm there was no death, only growth and transition to a higher state. So what I would see as a negative she would see as a positive. It was meant to be. “Spiritual healing” involved healing the spirit. Sometimes death is necessary for that. It’s a different way of looking at things, that’s all.

    When I told her that see that case of spiritual healing as a legal and ethical case of “murder,” she angrily ended the conversation. Different WORLD VIEWS. You can’t judge them using the same standards. I just can’t understand. I’m in another level.

    She seems to have dropped her idea about becoming a faith healer. I like to think my bluntness rattled her. Maybe. Maybe not. She’s aiming for a ‘level’ called peace and knowledge where nothing rattles you any more.

    The combination of sincerity, good intentions, and a religious mindset is seriously over-rated.

  23. Taz:

    I can’t help but think of the disgusting math of this situation. Basically, you’re only allowed to let one child die by neglecting basic needs. But if you’re religious, you get two.

  24. Doug Little:

    found a religion that allows you to use cocaine

    Isn’t that one of Ted Haggard’s?

  25. Doug Little:

    Involuntary manslaughter my ass, these cretins should be charged with 2nd degree murder and sent away to the slammer for life.

    Absolutely, but it ain’t gonna happen.

  26. jasonfailes:

    I know reason won’t work but maybe we can play different parts of their irrationality off each other:

    “Hey buddy, I’m on your side; plenty of kids and let the strongest survive. This modern society breeds nothing but weakness, but us Darwinists know better, eh?”

  27. NitricAcid:

    KevinBeck- because they know that God will take more than half of them home.

  28. Ben P:

    Ben P: regardless of the sincerity of their religious beliefs, is there a basis for considering the household to be a threat to the lives of the children living there? Or does the Pennsylvania law bar any consideration of that kind?

    I don’t really know, but I suspect a court could find that there was a threat to the lives of the children even if the Department couldn’t call it abuse.

    I’ll give you a similar although not quite right example from cases I’ve seen.

    Suppose the state removes a child from a single mom, because the mom is abusing drugs and the household is a danger to the child. The state now has custody of the child. The biological father is out there, but has a criminal record (say, A robbery conviction five years ago). However, on a closer look, the father has a stable household and is sufficiently reformed that he could be an appropriate parent.

    In that case Department policy would prohibit the Department from recommending a placement with the dad, but the children’s appointed ad litem could ask the court to make that placement anyway and hte court could do it.

  29. Kamaka:

    the child will not be deemed to be physically or mentally abused

    “Dead” doesn’t qualify as “abused”?

    Raging Bee @20

    Quite frankly, I suspect these parents (and others who act like them) had a desire — conscious or unconscious, acknowledged or unacknowledged — to get rid of kids they either didn’t want or can’t properly care for.

    You left out “didn’t like”.

  30. raven:

    She seems to have dropped her idea about becoming a faith healer. I like to think my bluntness rattled her.

    It might have. People aren’t going to change their minds in an instant. Much less admit an atheist helped them too.

    The far more common case is faith healers killing themselves. It is completely legal after age 18 to refuse all medicine. Most people have seen this at least once and frequently in their own family.

    I’ve seen a few pathetic cases here and there myself. I did see one case where someone with a treatable form of lymphoma changed their mind. They were going downhill despite intense faith healing mixed with multiple woo. Then one day they went in for treatment. “I realized I wanted to see my grandchildren”. This was 17 or so years ago and they are still very much alive and active.

  31. raven:

    the child will not be deemed to be physically or mentally abused

    “Dead” doesn’t qualify as “abused”?

    No.

    It is a human child sacrifice. Besides they got to heaven a whole lot sooner without the opportunity to blow it by sinning, you know, having sex or ending up gay or a Democrat.

    As Sastra pointed out, it all depends on your worldview. Your worldview defines reality, not the other way around. Or so they claim.

    This is BTW, pure magical thinking. And we all know how well magic works.

  32. Raging Bee:

    You left out “didn’t like”.

    I was trying to be charitable.

  33. billdaniels:

    Where is the outrage from the Religious RIght? I remember how they howled about all of the pain and suffering that Terry Schaivo had to endure when she was starved to death. They scream about the pain a fetus feels during an abortion. This was two living, breathing, post-birth children who suffered and died.

    Wait, I’ve figured it out. Faith healing is one of their most prosperous scams. They can’t criticize the cash cowl. I wonder how many people suffered or died because Pat Robertson said on the 700 Club that someone out there is being cured of cancer, diabetes, etc.?

  34. tomh:

    OP:

    Astonishingly, Pennsylvania law explicitly exempts such parents from being considered abusive

    There is nothing astonishing about it. A majority of states provide protection, in varying degrees, for parents who substitute prayer for medical care. The root of the problem is the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, (CAPTA), which provides grant money for state abuse programs. The Act includes lack of medical treatment in its definition of neglect, but then specifies, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian. . . .” The Act must be reauthorized every four years, and on one such occasion, Sen Dan Coats, (R-Indiana), argued on the floor of the Senate that parents had a First Amendment right to deny their children medical care.

    The current wording is actually an improvement, though. When the Act was first passed, in 1974, a religious exemption was required for a state to receive federal money. This was later changed to allow the state to include the exemption. That’s the astonishing part.

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