PHILADELPHIA – A fundamentalist Christian couple who relied on prayer to cure their dying toddler must take their remaining children for medical check-ups as part of their sentence in the boy's death, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who belong to First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia, were previously convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in the pneumonia death of their 2-year-old son Kent.
Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engel Temin said that, as adults, the couple is entitled to follow church teachings shunning medicine, which is seen as a lack of faith in God.
But the law says parents may not make that decision for their children.
"The welfare of the child is more important than the religious freedom of the parents," Temin said.
Defense lawyers had argued the Schaibles did not know how sick Kent was before his death in January 2009. The boy's symptoms had included coughing, congestion, crankiness and a loss of appetite, but the parents said he was eating and drinking until the last day, and they thought he was improving.
Speaking in court, Herbert Schaible asked the judge for leniency to allow the couple to support their family.
"We are grieving and will always feel the loss of our son," Schaible said. "With God's help, this will never happen again."
Temin sentenced them to 10 years of probation, during which they are required to seek routine and emergency medical care for their seven children, ages 1 through 15.
Schaible declined comment after the hearing, except to say that they would follow the judge's order.
Temin said she wrestled with the sentence, noting that prison would not address the problem or serve the needs of society. Both parents have been described as upstanding citizens and pillars of their community, Temin said.
Herbert Schaible teaches school at the church while his wife stays at home. Both are the eldest of nine children in families who belong to the church as well, the judge said.
The Schaibles have never had medical care, except for a midwife who attends home births, according to pastor Nelson A. Clark. He said the congregation has about 500 members.
Experts say about a dozen U.S. children die in faith-healing cases each year.
What do you think? Do you think they deserve a more severe punishment?
Well, I do.