A judge also ordered 14 years probation for the couple, who relied on prayer to heal their cancer-stricken son.
By Larry Fish, Inquirer Staff Writer
A Philadelphia couple who refused to provide medical treatment for their cancer-stricken child on religious grounds were sentenced to 14 years of probation yesterday and ordered to obtain medical insurance for their children.
Common Pleas Judge William J. Mazzola also ordered that the couple's 3 year old son remain in the custody of the city Department of Human Services. Under DHS supervision, the boy has been living with an uncle and aunt and recieving medical care.
Daniel and Anne Marie Foster, of the city's Tacony section, were convicted in May on charges of endagering a child and criminal conspiracy.
They are members of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, a Philadelphia denomination that believes only God can heal.
When their son, Patrick, developed a lump in his stomach last year, at age 2, they relied on prayers and anointing with oil.
An anonymous caller alerted DHS to the child's conition in May 1997. Patrick was taken from his parents and admitted to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, where he underwent surgery for removal of a tumor. Criminal charges against his parents followed.
At their sentencing, Mazzola said that "no one here considers them to be quote, criminals, unquote, in the usual sense."
The sentencing highlighted not only the conflict between the church and the state -- which requires parents to seek medical care for minor children -- but also the way the case has torn apaort the family. Daniel Foster's brother and Anne Marie Foster's father urged the judge not to return Patrick to his parents.
The fosters did not speak in court except to answer the judge when he asked if they understood the proceedings. They declined to speak with reporters afterwards.
Patrick, who was reported near death when he was hospitalized last year, was placed in the care of Daniel Foster's brother, Tim, and his wife, and responded well to treatment. But the prosecutor, Assistant District Mimi Rose, said yesterday that the cancer was active again and would require chemotherapy and possibly a bone-marrow transplant.
The fosters have agreed to recent treatments, but Rose said she was afraid that "they lack the ability to averride their steadfast belief in their religion."
Tony Demas, Anne Marie's father, told the court that returning Patrick to them would put him "in constant danger."
"What can I say?" Demas said, his voice breaking. "This is a very difficult situation for me. On the one hand, I have my daughter and my son-in-law, whom I have grown to love very much. On the other hand, I have my grandson, whom I love even more."
Demas said he considered Daniel, a 29 year old carpenter, and his daughter, who is 28, to have "average intelligence."
But, he said, "These parents cannot make a move without consulting their minister or another church member."
Anne Marie joined Faith Tabernacle shortly before her wedding about six years ago. Daniel was raised in the faith-healing church, as was his brother Tim.
Tim Foster told the court that "a lot of good thimgs come out of the church," but that he had found that "it took me a long time to make decisions for myself."
He said if Patrick "does go home, he's still in danger."
Daniel Foster said at his trial in May that if he had to do over again, he would still rely on his faith. He sat impassively through the proceedings yesterday.
Anne Marie's stepmother and stepsister also urged the judge not to return Patrick to his parents.
The Fosters are to have "liberal" rights for unsupervised visitation. They retain custody of their two other children, a 4 year old boy and a 1 year old girl.
But the sentence requires them to get medical insurance at least for their children, and any others they may have, and to put them under the care of a licensed pediatrician.
They must report any serious illnesses or injuries promptly to probation and Human Services, and they must participate in health-care classes at a hospital.
The Fosters were accompanied to court by about a dozen church members and supporters.
After Mazzola pronounced the sentence, the couple did not speak to his brother or her family.
Demas was asked if the case had estranged him from his daughter. "Not me from her, but her from me," he said. "It's entirely up to them. My arms are open to them."