The right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill-health or death…
Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.
— Supreme Court of the United States1
Yesterday, in a quiet Philadelphia courtroom, Herbert and Catherine Schaible were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of their 2 year-old son Kent. Kent died on January 24, 2009, from bacterial pneumonia after suffering for about two weeks, according to court testimony.
The Schaibles belonged to the First Century Gospel Church of Juniata Park, a church whose pastor, Nelson A. Clark, preaches against the use of medicine but allows for dental care, seeming to forget that dental medicine is a form of medical care. After the trial, Clark said this:
We are hurting now. That should not have been. That was not what we wanted to hear. Not involuntary manslaughter.
Well, Clark, perhaps you should stop telling your congregation to eschew medical care and be more open to it, especially when a child has a fever and is coughing for more than several days. According to the press, this also isn’t the first time you’ve been at odds with civil authorities. Remember 1991, the measles epidemic that hit Philadelphia that was exacerbated not only by your church but also the Faith Tabernacle of Nicetown? (Nicetown?)
Let’s get one thing straight: true miracles never happen. If you believe that God will miraculously heal you or your child by just “asking for it”, then not only do you need to seek medical attention for your children, but a psychiatric evaluation certainly would not be out of order for you either.
According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Schaibles called an expert witness to assist in their defense: forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht, allegedly best known for outspoken criticism of the Warren Commission’s findings regarding the assassination of JFK. Until today, however, I’d never heard the name. But anyway…
Wecht testified in the trial that what killed Kent was a fast-moving strain of pneumonia that developed between 12 and 24 hours before Kent’s death and that Kent would likely still not have survived even if given medical care. This is at odds with other medical testimony, including the statements of the parents, which provide a timeline of approximately two weeks. The parents themselves said they had been praying for Kent for 10 days.
But let’s humor Dr Wecht’s conclusion that this was a “fast-moving” strain of pneumonia. First, we can’t know if Kent would have died even with medical care. Perhaps medical procedures have become so advanced that we still could have helped Kent. He had bacterial pneumonia, meaning it’s possible he would still have responded to powerful antibiotics, but we will never know.
Modern medicine was never given the chance to save him.
However, there’s one important question that needs to be asked of Dr Wecht and his testimony: are there any fast-moving strains of pneumonia that manifest 12 to 24 hours before killing a person? The only thing I’ve found that comes close to this description is MRSA, which can develop into a pneumonia that can kill a person in under 24 hours if it infects an open wound. Somehow I doubt something like that would escape notice of the medical examiner.
“We tried to fight the devil, but in the end the devil won”, Herbert Schaible is alleged to have said.
A lot of people have very, very naive and arrogant thoughts about the devil, Satan, or whatever name you want to give him. According to folklore, Satan has been at a near stalemate with God since before Creation, which implies that Satan is about equally matched with God. Why would he want to see one two year-old child die rather slowly? It seems to me that he would prefer massive destruction on the order of, say, an apocalypse.
And somehow I doubt that God, in the various incarnations I’ve heard of him, would send an innocent 2 year-old child to Hell. So how has Satan won with the death of this child?
In the end we have brainwashed parents who think that prayer is better than medical attention. Time and again, this has been shown to not be true. Too many names have been written into history as deaths caused by the stupidity, arrogance, and naivety of brainwashed pious parents. Some of those deaths were painful and horrific. And preachers leading these congregations teach these parents that they know better than medicine, that God always heals, and if God doesn’t heal then, well, you just didn’t have enough faith or pray hard enough.
Spare me your bullshit, Reverend, and start telling parents you’ve been wrong about this and that parents should seek medical attention for their sick children. As Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Engel Temin said at the end of the trial:
The law is what it is. You have to take care of your children. It’s not enough to pray for them. It’s not enough to feed them and clothe them. You also have to give them care when they need it.
The parents are to be formally sentenced in February and are, in the mean time, out on $150,000 bail.
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Dean, Mensah. (2010, December 11). “Rhawnhurst couple guilty in son’s faith-case death”. Philadelphia Daily News.
Sample, Ian. (2007, January 19). “Bacteria tests reveal how MRSA strain can kill in 24 hours”. The Guardian (UK).
Slobodzian, Joseph. (2010, December 11). “Couple who believed in faith healing sentenced in son’s death”. The Philadelphia Inquirer.
United Press International. (2010, December 9). “Devil blamed in faith-healing trial”.
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- Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 US 158 (1944) [↩]