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Death by Prayer: Christian Fundamentalist Parents Denied Their Children Medicine and Watched Them Die

Seven-month-old Brandon Schaible died from bacterial pneumonia, severe dehydration, and strep—while his parents watched and prayed and, in accordance with their religious beliefs, refused to provide the child with medicine. Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Philadelphia now await trial, facing third-degree murder charges for Brandon’s death.

The atrocity is magnified by the fact that Brandon was the second Schaible child to die in this same way—from bacterial pneumonia and religiously motivated lack of medical treatment.

At the time of Brandon’s death, the Schaibles were still on probation for involuntary manslaughter in the preventable death of their two-year-old son Kent in 2009. The terms of their ten-year probation required them to seek medical care for any of their other children who might become sick.

The Schaibles are members of First Century Gospel Church, which teaches parishioners to place absolute faith in “God” in all aspects of life. The church’s online statement of beliefs includes:

Our commitment to God means that we trust God alone for physical healing without the use of medicine, drugs, prescriptions, pills, or human remedies. Jesus said to the woman (Matthew 9:22) “your faith has healed you;” and the apostle reminded those listening (Acts 3:16) “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him [faith being the condition] that has given this complete healing.” [emphasis in original]

Herbert Schaible responded to Brandon’s death by telling Philadelphia homicide detectives:

We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power. Medicine is against our religious beliefs.

Catherine Schaible told police that when Brandon’s breathing became labored two days before his death, they called an assistant pastor to anoint and pray over their son. When Brandon stopped breathing, the Schaibles continued to pray for a miraculous revival before contacting the funeral home.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the head pastor of their church blamed the untimely deaths of Brandon and Kent on a “spiritual lack” in the Schaibles’ lives:

They [Herbert and Catherine Schaible] realize they must get back to God, to seek wisdom from him, to find where the spiritual lack is in their heart and life . . . so this won’t happen again.

The pastor got one thing right. The Schaible’s children suffered and died because of a spiritual lack on the part of their parents. But the lethal deficiency was not a lack of faith; it was a lack of reason—man’s only means of knowledge and only proper guide to action.

Nor was the lack innocent. It was chosen. The Schaibles chose to ignore their knowledge that medicine could heal their child. They chose to pretend that prayer could heal him. And they chose to do so twice.

If the Schaibles are found guilty of withholding medicine from and and thus effectively causing the death of a second child, theys deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law.

In any event, everyone who embraces faith or prayer as efficacious should take note of yet another instance of the disastrous consequences of such irrationality.

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