Parents on Trial After Prayers Couldn't Save Sick Son

By Barry N. Dima
|  Tuesday, Dec 7, 2010  |  Updated 3:31 PM EDT
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Parents on Trial After Prayers Couldn't Save Sick Son

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Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Northeast Philadelphia go on trial Tuesday for involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors argue that they allowed their toddler son to die by turning to prayer rather than medical attention.

In January 2009, their two-year-old son, Kent, got sick. For ten days, Herbert and Catherine locked up inside their home, followed the teachings of their church, and prayed over his body, according to The Philadelphia Daily News. On January 24, 2009, Kent passed away from bacterial pneumonia; his parents thought it was just a bad cold or flu, according to their attorney.

"If she [Catherine] knew he was this sick, she would have taken him to the doctor – post haste," attorney Mythri Jayarman told the paper.

The couple was arrested after Philadelphia Assistant Medical Examiner Edwin Lieberman ruled Kent's death a homicide, saying it could have been prevented with the right medical care.

The Schaibles belong to the First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park where Reverend Nelson Ambrose Clark says he has never taken medicine or visited a doctor, according to the Daily News story.

“Our teaching is to trust Almighty God for everything in life,” Clark explains. He also cites a publication called Death by Medicine, which posits, “It is evident that the American medical system is itself the leading cause of death and injury in the US.”

The prosecution says Kent probably could have been saved with over-the-counter medication and that his parents were duty-bound to seek appropriate medical care.

Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, or CHILD, is an organization in Iowa whose mission is “to protect children from harmful religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect.” CHILD claims that Pennsylvania is not one of the 19 states that allow religious defenses involving felony crimes against children, according to the article.

Attorneys for the couple say they're not using faith as a defense; they simply didn't know their son's condition was life-threatening.

But Rita Swan, president of CHILD, tells the Daily News that she thinks the Schaibles were following their religious beliefs.

“A child is not just property of his parents, and parents must do everything within their power to safeguard the lives of children.”

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