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Should Parents Be Allowed to Pray Their Children Healthy?

The Schaibles' son died when they prayed for his pneumonia to go away instead of taking him to a hospital. Should they have gone to jail?

Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Pennsylvania’s First Century Gospel Church were given 10 years of probation yesterday for praying for their two-year-old son’s health instead of taking him to a doctor. The child, Kent, who was sick for two weeks prior to dying in 2009, ended up passing of pneumonia. “We tried to fight the devil,” the couple told their arresting officers, “but in the end the devil won.”

The Schaibles are now free to go home to their seven remaining children, with the one caveat that they regularly take the kids to the doctor for checkups.

Last year, Jeff and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide for not seeking out medical attention for their teenage son, Neil, who died from a congenital urinary tract blockage. And in 2008, the Beagleys’ granddaughter, Ava, also died when her parents anointed her with oils to cure her pneumonia rather than taking her to a hospital. Ava’s parents, however, were acquitted of manslaughter.

In 1991, nobody from First Century Gospel Church was prosecuted for failing to give measles vaccinations to the congregation’s children, a decision that resulted in eight of the kids dying from an outbreak of the illness.

Every year, about 12 children die in America after not receiving proper medical care due to their family’s religious beliefs, and not all of their parents are charged with crimes. As it stands, the United States has yet to adopt a blanket policy about deaths related to faith healing, while which faith-healing families states prosecute seems to be based on whimsy more than anything else. Clearly one of the main hurdles impeding judicial uniformity is our nation’s commitment to freedom of religion. But how far can personal liberties extend before they become dangerous and foolish?

photo (cc) via Flickr user sociotard

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