A second child of doctor-shunning couple dies

Posted: April 23, 2013

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."

The Schaibles have not been charged in the infant's death. Police and prosecutors said they were awaiting a medical examiner's report before deciding whether they would be charged. That finding could take two to four weeks, said Assistant Prosecutor Joanne Pescatore.

But at Monday's hearing, Lerner said there was evidence the Rhawnhurst couple had "knowingly, intentionally, callously, and hypocritically" violated the most important condition of their probation: getting help for an ailing child.

"It could not be clearer from your statements that you knew he was sick several days before he died," Lerner said, "that he was getting worse and having problems with his breathing."

Lerner decided against jailing the Schaibles while he made a final judgment on the probation violations. He said the couple did not pose a flight risk or currently any harm to their seven other children, whom the city child welfare agency has placed in foster homes.

He said he would reconsider if the children were returned to their parents, or if the couple were charged in Brandon's death.

The Schaibles, as members of the First Century Gospel Church, believe medical care is a sin that shows a lack of faith in God.

They were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son Kent. When the child died from bacterial pneumonia after a week and a half of illness, the Schaibles called their pastor, then a funeral home.

Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engel Temin made medical care the top priority for probation.

"You are to consult a medical practitioner whenever a child exhibits signs of being sick," the judge said, "and you are to follow the medical practitioner's advice to the letter."

On Thursday night, the Schaibles called the same funeral home, this time for Brandon.

The funeral home notified the Medical Examiner's Office, which informed police. Investigators processed the house as a crime scene.

Each Schaible child had a physical examination in 2011 and 2012, Joseph Glackin, director of Adult Probation and Parole, testified at Monday's hearing.

Brandon, born Aug. 31, had an exam 10 days after his birth and was healthy. That was his last doctor's visit, Glackin said.

At the 2011 sentencing, Catherine Schaible's own attorney expressed doubts that the parents would call a doctor if any of their children became ill.

"I have some concerns personally about their ability within their faith or their willingness to proactively take their children to get medical attention," attorney Mythri Jayaraman said then.

Jayaraman had requested that the family be referred to Department of Human Services, court records show.

Judge Temin said she could not legally order DHS intervention since the agency was not involved in the case.

"The only people that I can order to do anything are the defendants and the probation department," Temin said at the sentencing.

DHS social workers had visited the Schaible home the day after Kent's death in 2009, according to a state-mandated death review.

The other children in the home were not sick, the review states.

DHS closed the case five days after Kent Schaible's death because the agency could not intervene based on a family's religious beliefs alone, the state review reported.

Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law includes a religious exemption for instances in which parents neglect children's medical needs because of religious beliefs. Those faith-based cases cannot be labeled child abuse - a categorization many advocates feel prevents children from getting needed services.

While the exemption limits DHS oversight, it does not prohibit the agency from any involvement with the family, said DHS spokeswoman Alicia Taylor.

Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, said that a judge could require a defendant's cooperation with DHS as a condition of sentencing and that "DHS is generally willing to support the court's efforts."

For two years, the Schaibles reported in person to their probation officer, Glackin said Monday.

It is unclear from Glackin's comments and court records how often probation officers saw the children.

At the 2011 sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Pescatore requested close monitoring of the family, since the parents told an investigator that they would make the same decision if another of their children had become ill.

On Monday, she said that's exactly what happened.

"We're back here again," she said, "and another child is dead."


Contact Mike Newall

at 215-854-2759 or mnewall@phillynews.com.

or follow on Twitter @mikenewall.

|
|
|
|
|