A Michigan couple that killed their newborn daughter because they refused medical care is petitioning the court to regain custody for their two older children. Rachel and Joshua Piland are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Abigail Piland. Abigail died from complications related to RH incompatibility in 2017. The couple stood before Michigan Supreme Court to argue it was their religious right to deny Abigail medical care due to their belief in faith healing.
In 2017, Rachel Piland gave birth to a baby girl at home. Following the birth of Abigail, Rachel’s midwife noticed that baby’s coloring was off. Fearful the baby had jaundice; the midwife asked Rachel to take her to the hospital. Rachel declined to take Abigail to the doctor. She told the midwife, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Instead, Rachel sat her baby in front of a window and used a hair dryer to keep her warm. The following day Rachel’s mother noticed that Abigail’s color had gotten worse. Additionally, the baby began bleeding out of her nose and mouth. Her mother pleaded with Rachel to take Abigail to the hospital, but Rachel told her no.
By the third day, Abigail was struggling to breathe and eat. While the baby clung to life, Rachel went upstairs to listen to sermons online and pray. Not long after Abigail stopped breathing, instead of performing CPR on the baby, Rachel and Joshua prayed for her lungs to be filled with air.
Abigail passed away, and the couple did not notify police. Instead, they asked church friends to come over and pray with them. A family member called police when they learned about Abigail’s death online.
An autopsy confirmed that Abigail died from RH disease. The coroner ruled that had Abigail received proper medical care following her birth that she could have survived. Police investigated the death and eventually arrested the couple and charged them with involuntary manslaughter.
After authorities charged the Piland’s, the state removed their two older children from their custody. Since the removal of the children, Ingham County petitioned the court for termination of parental rights of the two older children.
CPS removed the third child in 2018 after Rachel gave birth to the baby at home. The baby also suffered from RH disease and needed extensive medical care to survive.
As the county worked to terminate the Piland’s parental rights, the couple decided to sue them for religious discrimination. The Piland’s argued that their decision not to seek medical care for Abigail was based upon their religious beliefs.
On April 10, 2019, the couple and the state squared off before Supreme Court Justices. The attorney representing the Department of Health and Human Services Kahla Crino said in court,
“The evidence will show that they watched her suffer, they watched her skin turn yellow, that they watched her eyes turn orange, that they watched her slip and they did absolutely nothing.”
“Ultimately, because of that decision to do absolutely nothing, the child died.”
An attorney for the Piland’s Vivek Sankaran argued,
“That is not considered negligent treatment under our under our juvenile code, child protective code.”
The Piland’s argued that they did not neglect their daughter’s medical care but rather refused her care based on their beliefs. With that argument, they say they are not guilty of her death.After hearing the arguments, the Supreme Court Justices will need to make the distinction between refuse and neglect. The justices could take weeks to make a ruling on the Piland’s custody case.
For their third child, the Piland’s will have a pre-trial hearing to determine their parental rights later in the week. All three of the children live with their maternal grandmother.
In the middle of their custody fight, the couple is still facing criminal charges for Abigail’s death. The case is moving at a snail’s pace through the courts. While they await trial, the couple remains free on $75,000 bond.
What remains unclear is why the Piland’s would be given the right to petition for parental rights when they are still facing trial for involuntary manslaughter. Perhaps the Supreme Court can either deny their arguments or hold off on a decision until the criminal trial is over.
Either way, there is absolutely no debate in my mind that the Piland’s neglected their daughter. Rachel had multiple people in her life worried about Abigail, and she refused to do anything. She allowed her daughter to bleed to death from jaundice and RH disease.
Then after killing Abigail, Rachel dared to give birth to a fourth baby at home. Again, she refused to treat her RH incompatibility. If CPS had not removed the baby in the summer of 2018, she would have died just like Abigail. The baby needed a full blood transfusion and spent weeks in the hospital.
This couple has no right to be parents to their living children. If the court awards them custody, three more kids could die at their hands.
Let’s hope that the court does not fall prey to “religious freedom” arguments and allow a faith healing death to go unpunished.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
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