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Faith Healing Parents Charged With Murder

Remember the parents in Pennsylvania who had a second child die from an entirely treatable condition while on probation for doing the same thing to another child? They’ve now been charged with third degree murder. They also face a separate hearing for violating the probation.

The couple are charged with the third-degree murder of Brandon Scott Schaible. The baby, just over 7 months old, died in April of bacterial pneumonia and dehydration.

“Sadly, there is only one reason for it: his parents,” District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference. “Instead of caring and nurturing him, they ultimately caused his death by praying over his body rather than taking him to the doctor.”

A medical examiner ruled Tuesday that Brandon’s death April 18 was a homicide, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. The medical examiner said the child began experiencing difficulty breathing, irritability and decreased appetite three days before he died.

At the time of their infant son’s death, the couple were already on probation for the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son Kent, who died after they decided to simply pray for his recovery rather than take him for medical care.

They belong to a church that teaches that it is a sin to go to the doctor because it proves that you lack faith in God to heal. Faith is not some vaguely good thing, it’s downright dangerous in many cases.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    Does someone know the position of their church on abortion? Because they seem to treat children as the property of the parents, not as persons with rights of their own.

  2. Randomfactor says

    Third-degree murder.

    Which I suppose means that it was a spur-of-the-moment killing–not something borne out of years and years of intent. “Whoops.”

    Two children dead.

  3. Michael Heath says

    Our culture overwhelmingly promotes faith as a virtue rather than the juvenile character defect that it is. I didn’t learn this lesson until my late-40s; in spite of abandoning belief in late-teens.

  4. dingojack says

    So what does ‘third degree’ murder actually require the prosecution to prove? *
    Update: no need. FoAW has it covered:

    Voluntary manslaughter (often referred to as third degree murder) sometimes called a “Heat of Passion” murder, is any intentional killing that involved no prior intent to kill, and which was committed under such circumstances that would “cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.” Both this and second degree murder are committed on the spot, but the two differ in the magnitude of the circumstances surrounding the crime. For example, a bar fight that results in death would ordinarily constitute second degree murder. If that same bar fight stemmed from a discovery of infidelity, however, it may be mitigated to voluntary manslaughter.[7]

    Dingo
    ——–
    * perhaps this was the most the prosecution could hope for, any more might have led to the verdict going against them. Remember that 9 or 10 of the 12 person jury are ‘religious’ themselves.

    [7] See Findlaw – definition of voluntary manslaughter.

  5. howardhershey says

    I would think that negligent homicide (a lesser included offense to 1st or 2nd degree murder) would be a slam-dunk. And I wonder if the minister/hierarchy of their church might be indictable on conspiracy to commit negligent homicide, although that might run afoul of ‘religious freedom’. ‘Religious freedom’ doesn’t, AFAIK, prevent ministers of Rasta from being indicted for supplying weed nor allow ‘human sacrifices’ (even if voluntary) as part of a religious ritual nor allow polygamy or slavery for that matter. But merely advocating that others use ‘faith healing’ might not be indictable.

  6. Sastra says

    Problem is that faith healing always works. When it looks like it doesn’t that’s only because you see sickness, disabilities, and death as negatives. With God, all results are good.

    What matters is that when you were tested, you did the right thing and put your trust in God.

    I have a friend who is an advocate for faith healing. When I asked her about cases like this one — where there is a clear and obvious medical solution and a child without it will die — she gave me an answer which resembles the “it’s all good” trope: sometimes death is a way of healing. There’s more to reality than the physical world. As an atheist, I wouldn’t be able to understand this.

    No, I understand it all right. I don’t agree. And in the absence of consensus my standards prevail. Murder doesn’t always entail bad intentions. Good intentions can be scarier — and just as dangerous.

  7. sathyalacey says

    The best part (sarcasm) will be watching members of their faith (possibly including themselves) contort themselves into logical pretzels to “prove” how right their faith is in the face of its failure rate here.

    Personally, I don’t expect them to try for the “well clearly the 2yo and 7mo children didn’t have enough faith”. Instead, I expect blame to be leveled at the sinful greater secular community around them, that is right now gearing its massive engines of destruction to punish this faithful couple.

    They will use this logic to advocate to their own people “see, this is why we need to further withdraw away from the outside culture, to protect our loved ones from the homofascists” (sorry, just learned that word from a conservative news site talking about the BSA today, have to find ways to use it).

    I remember when the previous case came out, was, of course horrified, and I distinctly recall when I saw the terms of their probation, thinking, “Wait, they’re not being separated from their children?” They seemed like total repeat offenders to me.

    I normally love being right. Not so much this time. :(

  8. criticaldragon1177 says

    Ed Brayton

    I hope these people do go to jail. The fact that they would let their children die, just to prove their faith is utterly terrifying.

  9. No One says

    @9

    ” let their children die”

    Yeah and by extension, your children, you and the rest of the world. Nihilists, the lot of them.

  10. raven says

    It’s just a fundie xian ritual.

    Human child sacrifice to their monster god.

    I looked into this once. No one knows how many kids are killed by their parents this way every year. Estimates are around a hundred in the USA.

    I found several families that had killed not one but two kids this way like the Pennsylvania couple. In most cases they aren’t prosecuted although that is starting to change.

    PS You wonder how they get away with it. They know it looks bad to the community so they try to hide it any way they can. Often they wait until the kid is 99% dead and rush them to the ER. “We didn’t know little Janey was so sick”.

  11. kantalope says

    Charge ‘em with malpractice.
    Faith will heal the child – child did not heal – therefore faith must have been lacking.

  12. soul_biscuit says

    dingojack :

    Voluntary manslaughter . . . .

    That does not appear to be how Pennsylvania defines third-degree murder. Penn. Crimes Code §§ 2501, 2502:

    § 2501. Criminal homicide. (a) Offense defined.-A person is guilty of criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another human being.

    (b) Classification.-Criminal homicide shall be classified as murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter.

    § 2502. Murder. (a) Murder of the first degree.-A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing. 

    (b) Murder of the second degree.-A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.

    (c) Murder of the third degree.-All other kinds of murder shall be murder of the third degree. Murder of the third degree is a felony of the first degree.

    It seems, then, that any intentional murder is murder of the first degree in Pennsylvania, and second-degree murder is restricted to felony murder. Murder committed recklessly or negligently is third-degree murder. There would be an excellent case for reckless murder here. These parents already let one child die, so they clearly understood the risks of inaction. They ignored those risks nonetheless, and their child died as a result.

  13. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Does someone know the position of their church on abortion?

    Guessing: Abortion shows a disturbing lack of faith. You should pray for a miscarriage instead.

  14. raven says

    Does someone know the position of their church on abortion?

    Anything after the third trimester is OK.

    This was a fifth trimester abortion.

  15. otrame says

    If ever the phrase “depraved indifference to human life” was appropriate.

  16. dingojack says

    Playing devil’s advocate here –
    Multiple deaths in the childen of a family, diagnosed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
    Murder or genetics? Discuss.
    Dingo
    ——–
    ie: Could multiple deaths in a family be equal to murder, or something else?

  17. howardhershey says

    I still think that an inquiry should be made wrt whether or not the minister of their church urged them specifically not to go to doctors in cases of illness or injury of their children. Or told them how to hide the fact that they didn’t from authorities. If so, he may have engaged in a conspiracy urging them to commit a crime. I see no reason why the instigator of such ‘negligent homicides’ gets off free to kill yet again by murder-by-proxy (a charge more often used in murder for higher cases than in murder by brainwashing). And much good if such ‘faith-healing’ ministers know that they risk jail time for not explicitly pointing out that their parishioners will be arrested and convicted if they do not give their children access to medical care until they reach the legal age where they can choose to avoid it of their own free will. That is, these preachers can say it is regrettable that the state forces them to do it, and that the kids can later choose not to get medical care when they reach the right age, but until then, it is not the parent’s choice.

  18. Thorne says

    @ Dingo,

    From Wikipedia: “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is marked by the sudden death of an infant that is not predicted by medical history and remains unexplained after a thorough forensic autopsy and detailed death scene investigation.”

    Typically, there is no reason or evidence to assume neglect or abuse in these cases, provided an autopsy is performed. It was given the name SIDS because of this. There was, and is, no compelling medical cause.

    And there seems to be some evidence of a genetic predisposition, which would mean possible multiple instances within a family. Barring any evidence of abuse or neglect, then, it would be wrong, and cruel, to accuse the parents of being criminally responsible.

    In a similar vein to your question, though, could parents be charged with neglect for refusing to vaccinate a child who subsequently dies from a preventable disease, such as measles or rubella? We do know that these vaccines work, preventing countless deaths. If faith healing parents can be prosecuted (as they should), why can’t anti-vaccination parents be prosecuted, too?

  19. dingojack says

    Multiple deaths in a family =/= prima facie murder, as intimated by Raven at #11.
    Dingo

  20. soul_biscuit says

    Multiple deaths in a family =/= prima facie murder . . . .

    Do you have a source for that? A prima facie case for murder requires the death of a human being and express or implied malice. Implied malice can be shown through extreme disregard for the risk of death.

    Multiple minor deaths in the same nuclear family may be evidence of such extreme recklessness. As Thorne pointed out, however, it might also be evidence of a genetic predisposition for SIDS. To prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt requires that the prosecution eliminate all reasonable, innocent explanations. To presume guilt from multiple, unexplained deaths without ruling out SIDS (or other reasonable, innocent causes) shifts the burden of proof to the defense. It’s a presumption of guilt.

  21. soul_biscuit says

    Actually, I guess I momentarily forgot what “=/=” means. Wow. Sorry, dingojack! I suppose I was bolstering your point, not countering it.

  22. dingojack says

    My dear soul_bisciut: I am so sorry about your apparent reading comprehension difficulties. Your local librarian might well be able to point you toward an adult literacy course suitable for your needs.. You should not be ashamed about your functional illiteracy as this can be caused by lots of factors, completely separate from low intellect and/or laziness.
    Dingo

  23. dingojack says

    Soul bisciut – apologies. Like you I jumped to conclusions. (in my case ’cause I’m a well known idiot)
    Dingo

  24. raven says

    To presume guilt from multiple, unexplained deaths without ruling out SIDS (or other reasonable, innocent causes) shifts the burden of proof to the defense. It’s a presumption of guilt.

    What the hell are you babbling on about.

    1. A lot of these kids that are dying aren’t infants. In fact most of them aren’t.

    2. A lot of them are teenagers.

    3. The cause of death is usually known. It isn’t SIDS. It isn’t sudden for one thing.

    In the case above, this 7 month old had according to the article “The medical examiner said the child began experiencing difficulty breathing, irritability and decreased appetite three days before he died.” And died of bacterial pneumonia and dehydration, both easily treatable.

    4. One case I saw was a 7 year old with a treatable form of childhood leukemia. It took him over a year to die. The docs even managed with great difficulty to get a court order mandating treatment. It took so long that the kid was beyond help and they didn’t even bother to start treatment.

    5. Quite often these kids linger in intense pain and suffering for months. The girl who died of type 1 diabetes in Wisconsin had a long slow agonizing death and could have been saved with a few bucks worth of insulin up until a few hours before she died.

    6. These parents, when challenged, almost never deny being faith healing fundie xians who reject modern medicine.

  25. soul_biscuit says

    What the hell are you babbling on about.

    This.

    Multiple deaths in the childen of a family, diagnosed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
    Murder or genetics? Discuss.

    Dingojack mentioned SIDS in his question. If there are cases where the evidence shows that parents are failing to obtain needed care for their children and prosecutors aren’t charging them, that’s a separate problem. I don’t disagree with you there.

  26. grumpyoldfart says

    In the fundie world these two killers will be hailed as heroes of the faith.

    My prediction:
    The woman will get a suspended sentence.
    The man will get a custodial sentence with an extremely short parole period.

    As for the children – what were their names again?

  27. says

    dehydration in a 7 mo is, according to a neo-natal nurse manager I used to date, a tough case to deal with because they are hard to get a line into. When I dated her, surgeon barbers were still all the rage, so things may have changed in the intervening years. Other than that quibble, I agree with your analysis.

  28. raven says

    Girl died after father turned to prayer instead of doctors
    Dale Neumann, 47, convicted of reckless homicide in US over death of 11-year-old diabetic daughter
    Associated Press guardian.co.uk, Sunday 2 August 2009 05.15 EDT

    A man in the US accused of killing his 11-year-old diabetic daughter by praying instead of seeking medical care has been found guilty of second-degree reckless homicide.

    Dale Neumann, 47, was convicted over the death of his daughter, Madeline, from undiagnosed diabetes.

    Prosecutors contended he should have rushed the girl to a hospital because she couldn’t walk, talk, eat or drink. Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family’s rural home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone called an ambulance when she stopped breathing….

    Here is an example of fundie SIDS.

    This girl was 11.

    She went slowly downhill from untreated diabetes until she was in a coma, unable to walk, talk, eat, or drink. When she stopped breathing, her parents called an ambulance. Big help by then.

    The parents were convicted of reckless homicide and are now appealing their right to kill their kids to the Wisconsin Supreme court.

    FWIW, there are millions of type 1 diabetes just like her living normal lives because of insulin.

    Hitchens rule: Religion poisons everything.

  29. Michael Heath says

    raven writes:

    Hitchens rule: Religion poisons everything.
    [emphasis raven’s]

    Suppose I concede this is a defendable position. Do you think a defendable position also exists that religion does not, “poison everything”?

  30. lorn says

    Faith has been defined as belief in things unseen. Holding faith so high amounts to worshiping ignorance. Allowing their child to die amounts to offering them up as sacrifices to their ignorance.

    Am I being too cynical if I assume these same people equate abortion with murder?

    Religion, the application of absolutes of thought and the supernatural, to humans, limited and rooted to the ground as we all are, does tend to poison everything. Religion is the divide by zero error of human thought.

  31. Ichthyic says

    “Sadly, there is only one reason for it: his parents,” District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference.

    But this is not actually the case.

    there are TWO reasons for it:

    His parents

    and

    their church.

    It was made quite clear that their beliefs arise from the specific church they attend.

    The question is not whether this is 3rd degree murder in Pennsylvania. It is. The more interesting question is:

    Is it a larger conspiracy to commit murder, and is the church an accomplice in that?

    Why isn’t the DA attempting to file charges against the church, it’s pastor/priest, and/or whoever else is responsible for this specific directive?

  32. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    By the way, Ed, just for your amusement, here’s what else Chambers is up to at the moment.

    (Warning: autoplay video at link target)

  33. dingojack says

    Raven – I’m not really disagreeing with you holus bolus.
    My maternal grandfather’s eldest sister converted to become a Christian Scientist and moved to the US. A few years after the birth of her son she died of diabetes related complications because she refused to take the new-fangled medicine (at that time) that could have saved her life – Insulin. The wider effects continue to ripple down through that branch of the family.
    But it’s not just religion that poisons, it’s inflexible, unthinking, uncompromising dogma of all kinds.
    Dingo

  34. left0ver1under says

    Murdering one’s children is still murder, whether by these or any other means:

    * denial of medical care
    * starvation
    * beatings
    * “honour killings”

    The only exception is self-defence, and that doesn’t apply here.

    If an adult chooses to die by refusing medical care (either an end of life “DNR” waiver or suicide by stupidity), that’s the adult’s right. But children aren’t capable of making that decision. The parents’ right to have religion loses any argument with the child’s right to live.

  35. dingojack says

    except – as pointed out above – this isn’t murder, it’s voluntary manslaughter (the intent to kill wasn’t, but the mental state of the parents was, at issue). See mine #5 and footnote.
    Dingo

  36. Ichthyic says

    this isn’t murder

    dingo, again, as has been pointed out to you, each state in the US has variations on what gets defined as murder.

    In Pennsylvania, what the parents did is in fact defined as 3rd degree murder, which is why that’s what they are charged with…

  37. says

    Third degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and other forms of homicide are simply labels. If they could say,. “Letting their child die because they’re fucking morons” and not have the charge dismissed they might well do that.

  38. Thorne says

    The parents’ right to have religion loses any argument with the child’s right to live.

    Shouldn’t this also apply to a child’s right to a good education? I think it’s almost as bad for parents to destroy a child’s mind by teaching them stupidity and gullibility as it is for them to let them die through negligence. It’s long past time that we stopped catering to religion and start demanding that religious organizations start following ALL of the laws. We cannot keep letting them decide for themselves which laws don’t apply to them.

  39. says

    @43:

    Unfortunately the only way we find out how under/mis-educated a lot of homeschooled kids are is to interview them for jobs–at which point it is a little late to remediate the problem.

  40. soul_biscuit says

    [T]his isn’t murder, it’s voluntary manslaughter . . . .

    It’s a minor, technical point, but third-degree murder is not equivalent to voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania. Any murder that is not an intentional killing is defined as murder in the third degree in Penn. Crimes Code section 2502, cited above. That would include reckless murder, which might be a fruitful theory for the prosecution to pursue. (It would also seem to include “negligent murder,” which I’ve never heard of.) It does not include manslaughter of any kind, which is not murder by definition.

    In any event, what the parents did here was not traditional voluntary manslaughter. When someone kills another intentionally but does so under some extreme provocation, intentional murder is reduced to voluntary manslaughter. The provocation wipes out the “malice” element of murder. Here, there was no intentional killing and no provocation.

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