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.