A religious couple already on probation for choosing prayer over medicine in the death of their toddler son may be facing similar charges in the death of their newest child.

According to an article on ABC News, “Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian church that believes in faith healing. They lost their 8-month-old son, Brandon, last week after he suffered from diarrhea and breathing problems for at least a week, and stopped eating. Four years ago, another son died from bacterial pneumonia.”

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That boy, a two-year-old named Kent, died after the Schaibles refused to take him to the doctor when he became sick, relying instead on faith and prayer. The couple were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years on probation.

In the latest tragedy, they told police that they prayed for God to heal Brandon instead of taking him to a doctor when he fell ill. Officials said that an autopsy will be performed on the child, and depending on those results the parents may be charged with a crime.

The couple attend, and have taught at, Philadelphia’s First Century Gospel Church, which cites Biblical scripture favoring prayer and faith over modern medicine. Other religions, including Followers of Christ Church, Christian Scientists, and Scientology, have doctrines that prohibit or discourage modern medicine and therapeutic interventions.

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This is not the first time that parents have gone on trial for child abuse or neglect for refusing their children medical attention. Though freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the practice of that religion does not give followers license to break the law — especially when the result is injury or death to a child.

Proving The Power of Prayer?

If prayer and faith healing had a proven track record of success, it might be argued that they provide a legitimate, proven alternative to medical care. Many people may be surprised to find that intercessory prayer (petitioning a higher power to heal someone else) has been tested. Several studies have been done to see if people who are prayed for recover any faster, or are cured of disease at higher rates, than those who are not prayed for.

In one of the largest studies ever conducted, researchers at six major medical centers including Harvard and the Mayo Clinic looked at patient outcomes of prayer. The research, “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer ‘STEP’ in Cardiac Bypass Patients,” was published in the American Heart Journal and conducted over the course of a decade.

Nearly 2,000 cardiac surgery patients were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: one group was prayed for after being told they’d be prayed for; another group was prayed for after being told they may or may not be prayed for; and the third was not prayed for after being told the same thing. The results: the group that was prayed for did no better than the group that wasn’t prayed for. Intercessory prayer had no beneficial effect at all on recovery time, death rate, or other medical factors.

Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University and author of the Science-Based Medicine blog, told Discovery News “to the extent that faith healing and prayer have been studied, the evidence shows they do not work. This is not surprising, as they are little more than magic and wishful thinking. Forgoing proven medical care for serious treatable conditions is never a good idea, but it is criminal neglect when such decisions are made on behalf of defenseless children.”

Photo: Herbert and Catherine Schaible Credit: Philadelphia Police Department