"Parents' trial begins in death of Rhawnhurst toddler who did not receive medical care"

Posted on Wed, Dec. 8, 2010

Parents' trial begins in death of Rhawnhurst toddler who did not receive medical care

By Joseph A. Slobodzian
Inquirer Staff Writer

A Philadelphia forensic pathologist told a Common Pleas Court jury Tuesday that a 2-year-old Rhawnhurst boy would almost certainly be alive had he received routine medical care before he died last year of pneumonia.

"This type of pneumonia, this type of bacteria, is preventable through vaccination and treatable with antibiotics," testified Assistant Medical Examiner Edwin Lieberman, referring to the disease that killed Kent Schaible in January 2009.

Lieberman defended his decision to classify the death as a homicide as a prosecutor began her involuntary manslaughter case against the boy's parents, Herbert and Catherine Schaible.

There is no mandatory prison term for involuntary manslaughter, but the Schaibles each could face up to 24 years in prison if convicted.

The Schaibles are members of a church that preaches forgoing medical care in favor of prayer and faith healing. Authorities allege that when their son became ill with fever, cough, diarrhea, and loss of appetite,the Schaibles cared for him at home for almost two weeks, praying for him to get well as he died.

It's a case in which the jury must discern the boundaries of parental responsibility, religion, and the law.

"A 2-year-old doesn't have the wherewithal to say, 'Mommy, Daddy, I'm sick. I need to go to a doctor,' " Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said in her opening statement.

"A simple visit to the doctor, a prescription, and that little boy could have been with us today," Pescatore said.

The Schaibles' attorneys, however, argued that it took an autopsy to determine what killed young Kent and that the symptoms his parents saw were not different from those of cold or flu. The Schaibles, their lawyers told the jury, are on trial because of their beliefs.

"If we don't get through the emotion, we will never get to the reason that this child passed away," said Bobby Hoof, the attorney for Herbert Schaible, 42. "We are not here to discuss religion, we're here to discuss why this child passed away."

Hoof said he would bring in his own expert forensic pathologist, the celebrated Pittsburgh medical examiner Cyril Wecht, who will testify that the bacterium that killed Kent - Haemophilus influenzae Type B - is resistant to antibiotics.

"It would not have cured the child," Hoof added. "The child would have died."

Mythri Jaraman, the lawyer for Catherine Schaible, 41, argued in her opening statement that Schaible's religion is irrelevant because the prosecution cannot prove a key element of involuntary manslaughter: that she knew or should have known Kent "faced a substantial risk of death."

"Not this D.A., not Mr. Hoof, not the state and not any one of us loves Kent Schaible any more than his mother," Jaraman told the jury.

No one has alleged that the couple are anything but loving parents. Both defense lawyers said visits to the Schaible house after Kent's death by a nurse and social workers showed no signs of neglect or abuse among the couple's six other children.

Both Schaible lawyers argued that the couple - both quit school after ninth grade - cannot be expected to know when cold and flu symptoms are life-threatening pneumonia.

Catherine Schaible's mother, Mary Wakefield, testified that her daughter told her Kent was "coming along, doing good."

When she saw Kent on Jan. 24, 2009, Wakefield testified, he seemed grumpy but otherwise healthy. She said she was shocked when Pastor Ralph Myers, assistant pastor of the First Century Gospel Church, came to the house to pray with the parents and she was told the child had died.

First Century Gospel Church, founded in 1925, is at 4557 G St. in Juniata Park.

This is not the first time the church and its members have run afoul of the law over its belief in faith healing.

In 1993, Philadelphia officials got a court order against another couple after they prayed over their 12-year-old son at home instead of taking him to an emergency room after he was hit by a car and seriously injured.

And in 1991, the church and another congregation, Faith Tabernacle of Nicetown, came under scrutiny after eight children died in a measles epidemic after members resisted vaccinating their children.

My Opinion:

So, here it is. A child dies because of the religious beliefs of his parents--religious beliefs that the child was too young to understand or follow himself.

While I believe that the parents are 100% responsible for their sons death, it's hard to know how to punish them by law. Punishing these parents because of their "parenting style" opens the door for more interference by the state into the parental practices of any and everyone. However, had the child been misdiagnosed by a doctor and died as a result, wouldn't there inevitably be a malpractice suit? This was conscious negligence.

At the same time, does the church deserve to share some of the responsibility with parents? While I find the ideals of the church that lead to this child's death abhorrent, I'd argue that it was the Schaible's choice to not only join the church, but to practice faith healing instead of seeking practical medical care. Unless you can prove that church officials or members forced the Schaible's to abstain from medical treatment, unfortunately, the church gets off the hook (hopefully not without at least a little criticism, though).

Is it not child abuse to deny a dying child medical care in lieu of faith healing and prayer? In my opinion, it is. It's a textbook example of neglect. Though, the religious who believe in these practices would argue that these types of miracles happen everyday and we cannot put "god's plan" on trial--I'd say prove it, and if that were the case then we could not adjudicate anything or anyone.

This child had not yet been able to defend the decisions of his parents with the same religious ideals that his parents would have inevitably indoctrinated him to do, had he been older. And, while it's not illegal to refuse medical treatment for yourself, I'd argue that a two-year-old child cannot make that decision for himself, which lays full responsibility on the parents. And, in this case, the parents "knelt" by while their child died. This is exactly the type of thing that (a functional) Child Protective Services was designed for. But, "god" forbid, anyone attack their religion.

Yes, the parents believed that their beliefs were superior to medical treatment and were blinded by faith. But, being able to physically see their child getting worse and still refusing to take him to a doctor is intolerable, and the judicial process should not be deferred by religion, as was this child's health.

Also, knowing that they have six other children, how do you go about protecting these children from sharing the same fate as their brother? Or do you?I was just completely disgusted by this story and wanted to hear your opinions about it.


Slobodzian, Joseph A. "Parents' trial begins in death of Rhawnhurst toddler who did not receive medical care." The Philadelphia Inquirer. 8 Dec 2010. http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/pa/20101208_Parents__trial_beg...

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The sickening thing is that given the bias toward religion, particularly in the US, these nutjobs will get away with it, scot-free.. Religious privilege usually seems to triumph over common sense and justice.
Children die very often from this type of thing, but our news needs to report on Dancing with the Stars instead. If as the Oregonian Newspaper reports there were 21 in the their state over 35 years, the extrapolation would be 4 deaths per month over this issue alone (in the US). 1 per week. But we don't hear about them and the families go on killing for their happiness... I mean, faith. I suppose as long as I know who won American Idol, I don't need any other news. Some quotes and links about it below.

"38 states had laws that shield parents from persecution if they reject medical treatment for their children in favor of faith healing. However, most of these state laws specify that if a child's condition is life-threatening, then a physician must be consulted."
"Child abuse laws in 30 states still provide some form of protection for practitioners of faith healing in cases of child neglect and other matters. Link

A series by the Oregonian newspaper announced that of 78 minors buried in the graveyard over 35 years, 21 "probably would have lived with medical intervention, often as simple as antibiotics." Link
That particular strain of bacteria may or may not be resistant to antibiotics, but children who aren't forced to use god as a doctor get immunizations, and there is an immunization for this bacteria: Hib. It's given to infants in a series along with their other immunizations.
Right. I like how their main argument was basically, "well, the kid was going to die anyway." Yeah, because his parents let him get THAT sick by not immunizing him and then not treating him when he became ill because he wasn't immunized. But remember, "not any one of us loves Kent Schaible any more than his mother." She "loved" him to death.

Yeah, that's what got me, too.  That's a defense that just doesn't cut it.  That was a totally preventable illness.


And not that I am condoning what happened, but natural selection, people, natural selection.  That gene pool just ain't gonna make it.

They should be jailed is my view,and i hope its drummed into them that their middle-aged beliefs cost them their child's life.And I also think that the state should have some say in the interests of say children under the age of sixteen if its going to save a child's life and that should be made law.It's a really sad story and I feel sorry for the kid,what a waste of life.
Can someone win a Darwin Award for killing their offspring through stupidity? I think I saw a winner like that before.
"fever, cough, diarrhea, and loss of appetite" for more than 2 weeks? What kind of cold is that?! And you wouldn't take a 2-year child that you suspected of having the flu to the doctor? They didn't know that children die from the flu?

Regardless of what their beliefs were, that is child abuse and negligent homicide. At the very least, the other children should be taken away from them, as they've given no indication that they will seek medical attention for any of their other children who become sick.
Yeah. Nobody expects the parents to know when it's life threatening. But we DO expect that of physicians and if they had taken him in for a checkup, he would probably still be here. The parents didnt know antibiotics wouldn't work so whether they would or not is irrelevant. More evidence religion is poisonous.
There is a freedom to practice religion. There is NO freedom to practice religion as one sees fit. Or at least THERE SHOULDN'T BE!
no contest, as far as I'm concerned.


From the WHO:


Hib [Haemophilus influenzae Type B] is preventable — highly effective vaccines have been available since the early 1990s.


Ninety-two percent of the populations of developed countries was vaccinated against Hib as of 2003. Systematic vaccination has now virtually eliminated Hib disease in industrialized nations.


Treatment of Hib is through an intensive, sustained course of antibiotics....Resistance of Hib to several of the more inexpensive but effective antibiotics is a growing cause of concern and provides additional impetus for expanding vaccine coverage.




From wiki:


Haemophilus influenzae produces beta-lactamases, and it is also able to modify its penicillin binding proteins, so it has gained resistance to the penicillin family of antibiotics. In severe cases, cefotaxime and ceftriaxone delivered directly into the bloodstream are the elected antibiotics, and for the less severe cases, an association of ampicillin and sulbactam, cephalosporins of the second and third generation, or fluoroquinolones are preferred. Macrolide antibiotics (e.g. clarithromycin) may be used in patients with a history of allergy to beta-lactam antibiotics.



So it should have been prevented in the first place, if they had only vaccinated their child, and despite the defense expert's testimony, it is not resistant to all antibiotics.


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