In February 2017, 3-day-old Abigail Piland died after her parents refused to take her to the hospital for medical help. Abigail died from complications associated with jaundice and RH disease. Abigail’s parents, Rachel and Joshua Piland, refused medical care for the girl and instead prayed for her resuscitation. Authorities arrested Rachel and Joshua Piland in November 2017 for involuntary manslaughter. When Rachel delivered another baby in July 2018, the couple again refused to seek care for the baby. The baby was removed from the couple’s home and required emergency medical intervention to survive.
According to multiple reports, Rachel delivered Abigail at her home in February 2017. When the midwife returned for an assessment of the baby the next day, she grew concerned about Abigail’s coloring. The midwife said that Abigail appeared jaundiced.
Due to Abigail’s yellow coloring, the midwife insisted the couple take her to the emergency room. The midwife told Rachel and Joshua that without proper treatment Abigail could suffer brain damage.
The couple told the midwife that, “God makes no mistakes.” Additionally, Rachel dismissed the midwife’s concerns about Abigail and insisted Abigail did not need help.
When the couple refused to take Abigail to the hospital, the midwife scheduled an appointment to come to check on the baby the next day. Rachel canceled the appointment with the midwife.
The following day Abigail started coughing up blood and had trouble eating. Instead of seeking help, Rachel stripped the baby down to her diaper. Rachel placed Abigail in front of a window and used a hair dryer to keep her warm.
When Rachel’s mother came to see Abigail, her mother, Rebecca, urged her daughter to take her to the hospital. Rebecca told Rachel that Abigail’s coloring was not right. Again, Rachel refused to take Abigail to the hospital.
Instead of dealing with Abigail’s medical emergency, Rachel decided to listen to religious sermons and pray.
By the next morning, Rebecca and Rachel noticed blood coming out of Abigail’s nose. Additionally, Abigail struggled to breathe and refused to eat. Rebecca wanted to call 911 for help, but Rachel would not allow her mother to make the call.
Within hours, Rachel found Abigail lifeless and not breathing in a bouncy seat. When she found Abigail non-responsive, Rachel brought the baby to her husband, Joshua. Joshua had been sleeping at the time.
Joshua knew how to perform CPR but refused to give Abigail CPR. He didn’t feel comfortable performing CPR on the baby. Instead, Joshua attempted to blow air into Abigail through her face. When Abigail failed to respond, the couple sat beside her and prayed for her resuscitation.
As Abigail laid next to the parents dying, Joshua and Rachel did not call 911. Instead, the couple went online and texted friends to pray for Abigail to come back to life. Joshua massaged Abigail hoping to get “good air” into his daughter.
During this time the couple never called for help but notified family members of Abigail’s condition. A family member in California called the police to inform them of Abigail’s death.
When police arrived at the home, they found Abigail’s dead body and three people sitting next to her praying. Authorities transported Abigail’s corpse to the medical examiner for an autopsy. The medical examiner determined that Abigail died as a result of RH disease.
Rachel’s blood type was RH negative. Abigail’s blood type was RH positive. Antibodies in Rachel’s blood attacked Abigail’s blood. As a result, the baby died from severe jaundice and brain damage.
“Rh disease, also known as Rh incompatibility, is a form of anemia which the National Institute of Health says can be dangerous, but is usually detected and treated with standard medical care during and after pregnancy.
The disease stems from the Rh factor of the mother’s blood: If her Rh factor is negative but the baby’s Rh factor is positive, the mother may produce antibodies which enter the womb and attack the baby’s red blood cells.
The disease typically isn’t a problem during a woman’s first pregnancy, but the risk factor increases with each additional pregnancy that involves a baby with a positive Rh factor.”
(Treatment for RH incompatibility can improve outcomes for both the mother and fetus. RhoGAM a prescription medicine can be given to mothers during pregnancy to prevent RH immunization. Mothers receive the medicine as an intramuscular shot between 26-28 weeks. An additional shot is given post delivery if the baby’s blood is RH +)Following the autopsy, the medical examiner determined Abigail would have survived had she been treated for the disorder.
After police completed their investigation, they arrested the couple and charged them with involuntary manslaughter. The couple bonded out after a court arraignment on the charges.
During their time on bond, Rachel became pregnant with another child. Again, Rachel refused treatment during pregnancy for her RH negative blood type. In July 2018, Rachel gave birth to a baby at home.
The baby named, Verity, presented similar issues as Abigail. On the same day of Verity’s birth, an anonymous person contacted Child Protective Services. When CPS learned of Verity’s birth, the state immediately seized the infant.
Authorities rushed the infant to the hospital. Verity showed signs of RH disease. Doctors attempted to give her a blood transfusion, but the treatment failed to improve her condition. When their first treatment failed, doctors opted for a full exchange transfusion where they replaced all of Verity’s blood.
After the exchange transfusion, Verity spent weeks in the hospital. Doctors monitored her bilirubin levels and other organ function. The family told a local news outlet that Verity should recover. Unfortunately, the doctor could not say if Verity would suffer any long-term consequences.
As Verity recovers, she remains outside of the custody of Rachel and Joshua. The couple has two other children, not in their care. They are currently in the middle of a case with the state to formally terminate their parental rights. However, the couple is fighting the case saying they have religious freedom to treat their child how they wish.
In the matter of Abigail’s death, the state of Michigan charged them with involuntary manslaughter. The couple faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the charge. A pretrial conference for the case is scheduled for January 17.
While the death of Abigail is tragic, Verity survived because someone refused to watch another child die. Each person that failed to intervene with Abigail’s health crisis played a role in her death. The midwife could have called for an ambulance but refused to make the call. Rebecca, Rachel’s mother, knew that Abigail was very sick and failed to call 911.
Religion or faith is never an excuse to deny a child emergency medical treatment. A child is not the property of a parent. Each child born has the right to receive medical assistance for emergencies.
Rachel and Joshua used their belief system as an excuse not to help both babies. Rh disease and jaundice are not curable by prayer.
If Rachel had received proper treatment for RH incompatibility during her pregnancies, neither of the babies would have struggled following their births. She refused to seek medical assistance for Verity’s birth knowing Abigail died from complications associated with RH disease.
Rachel and Joshua unfit to be parents. Even if they are convicted on involuntary manslaughter, the sentence of 15 years hardly feels like justice for Baby Abigail.
*Katie Joy is a blogger and freelance writer. Her work is featured on Upworthy, Huffington Post, Yahoo Parents, Mamamia, Daily Beast, Cafe Stir, Newsweek, Jezebel, and The Daily Mail. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.
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