What Killed the Son of Faith-Healing Couple

One of Philadelphia's leading medical experts says Brandon Schaible's life could have been saved with proper medication

NBC 10 News, Pennsylvania/May 23, 2013

A Philadelphia "faith-healing" couple has been charged with murder in the death of their 7-month-old son.

"Instead of caring and nurturing him, they ultimately caused his death by praying over his body instead of taking him to the doctor," said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, as he announced the charges late this afternoon.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible are members of the First Century Gospel, a religious group that relies on prayer, rather than medical care.

Their son, Brandon, died on April 18, in what the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's office ruled a homicide. According to his death certificate, Brandon died from bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and group B streptococcus infection.

He is the second child of the Schaibles to die after they used prayer as opposed to medical treatment. Their 2-year-old son Kent died in 2009 from pneumonia. After Kent's death, the couple was under a court order to seek medical advice if any of their children became ill.

"In the case of Brandon - it wasn't preventable, but it was treatable," said Dr. Paul Offit, the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Offit says this infection could have been treated with penicillin. He said Brandon would have been "hungry for air" and shown symptoms including lethargy, difficulty breathing and decreased appetite.

According to the medical examiner's report, the Schaibles said Brandon showed these types of symptoms three days before his death. They admitted to authorities that they did not provide medical care for their child.

Group B strep, often referred to as "baby strep," is found in 25-percent of pregnant women, who carry the bacteria in the rectum or vagina, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It can be passed from mother to child during delivery, but Dr. Offit says he doesn't think that was the case here.

"This baby (Brandon) was 7 months when he got it, so I don't think it's something he got from his mother when he passed through the birth canal," Dr. Offit said.

"This child had a right to live," said Dr. Rita Swan, President of CHILD, "Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty."

Both Pennsylvania law and the terms of the couple's probation required them to get medical care for this baby, said Dr. Swan. She believes parents should care for their child until they reach an age where they can decide on their own which religious rights to follow.

Dr. Swan says the parents should have known better since they were convicted in the death of their first child. In that case, the Schaibles were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

Besides murder charges for Brandon's death, the Schaibles are also charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy and endangering welfare of a child.

The couple's seven other children are currently in foster care.

Dr. Swan says the commonwealth has a duty to safeguard the lives of children, "Pennsylvania has had far too many of these deaths."

According to research done by CHILD dating back to 1971, 30 children in Pennsylvania -- that they know of-- have died after their parents withheld medical care on religious grounds.

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