Faith-Healing Parents Charged With Murder for Refusing Kids’ Medical Care — Should They Go to Prison?

A Philadelphia couple who believe in faith healing over medicine and have had two children die of pneumonia can’t post bail before a hearing Friday. This year, the family lost a child after refusing to provide him with medical care. But it’s not the first time that Herbert and Catherine Schaible have come under scrutiny for denying life-saving health services to one of their children.

The two are charged with third-degree murder in the April death of their 8-month-old son, Brandon. Previously, the Schaibles were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment after 2-year-old Kent died in 2009 and were ordered afterward to get their children medical care. Considering that this was part of their probation deal, the notion that another child was denied care could land them 14 years in prison — or more.

Catherine, left, and Herbert Schaible arrive to turn themselves in at police headquarters in Philadelphia on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. The couple who believe in faith healing over medicine and who were on probation in their son’s pneumonia death were charged with murder Wednesday after a second young child died under what a prosecutor called “eerily similar” circumstances. Credit: AP

Rather than comply with this order, the parents purportedly followed the same steps that they took in handling Kent’s illness. Prosecutors claim they prayed over Brandon as his condition worsened instead of seeking the assistance of a doctor who might have been able to save the child; he suffered from diarrhea and breathing issues for at least a week and was reportedly not eating.

Brandon’s death has landed the couple’s seven surviving children in foster care and has created yet another legal conundrum for the family. While First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann said that the parents are perfectly entitled to practice their religious beliefs, a line is crossed when their children are endangered.

“How many kids have to die before it becomes extreme indifference to human life? They killed one kid already,” McCann said as the murder charges were announced.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, left, accompanied by 1st Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann, center, and Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Philadelphia. Williams announced Herbert and Catherine Schaible who believe in faith healing over medicine have been charged with murder after a second child died of pneumonia. Credit: AP

The Schaibles, according to the Associated Press, are members at the First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The church’s website, the outlet notes, quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine and suggests it’s a sin to trust in medicine over faith.

A judge set bail Thursday at $250,000 apiece, but prosecutors had the decision stayed until a hearing Friday. While the family clearly violated the court’s previous determination, their defense lawyers say the Schaibles have no ill intent, and they hope to have the bail reduced. Prosecutors want the couple held without bail until trial.

This obviously opens up a major discussion about the limits of religious freedom. Should parents be allowed to decline their children’s medical care? Does the government have the right to ensure that kids get proper, life-enhancing or life-saving treatment? These are just two of the many questions surrounding this case. Take the poll, below, and let us know your views.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.