In Court Faith Healing Couple Defends Choice to Pray While Baby Bled To Death

In Court Faith Healing Couple Defends Choice to Pray While Baby Bled To Death April 11, 2019

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.”

Crino continued,

“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.

She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis on The Non-Sequitur Channel. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.

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  • Freethinker33

    What they want is not religious freedom. What they want is to be allowed to let their own children die, in pain, for no legitimate or rational reason. They should not regain custody, and any further children they might have should be immediately removed. Complete termination of parental rights, no visitation rights.

    And if they are anti-choicers, which they probably are, then two things. One, how is letting your child die in any way “pro-life”? Two, that also means they think women should not have bodily autonomy… therefore should agree to having Rachel sterilized so she can’t have any more kids she lets die.

  • larry parker

    Refusing to seek medical care is worse than neglecting it.

  • The same kind of bull shit ideology will prosecute a women for aborting a few cells will let nutty religious people murder a young child go FREE to do it again!
    Please America do not let the Right Wing Facsist destroy all the decency of our beloved country!

  • frostysnowman

    So I guess this is this an example of when God says it’s OK to murder a baby? I imagine these parents think abortion is murder.

  • kantalope

    I guess they didn’t have enough faith

  • LimeGecko


    Rh factors do not care what you do and do not believe.

  • “Involuntary manslaughter”? No, just no. They deliberately and voluntarily denied that baby proper medical care. This was abuse. This was neglect. This was homicide.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    “God doesn’t make mistakes” FFS. a child DIED and this is their answer.

  • Brian Shanahan

    Depraved indifference murder.

  • Dr Sarah

    Is this custody case really hinging on hair-splitting over the reasons why they won’t seek medical care for a child? The focus of a custody case should be on whether the people in question can provide a safe, appropriate, adequate home for a child.

    The sad fact is that, however sincere their beliefs might be, however well-intentioned and loving they are, however firmly their beliefs might be based in their own understanding of their own religion… their beliefs still make it impossible for them to bring children up safely. They won’t seek medical care for a child even when the child is clearly extremely ill, and this has now resulted in a tragedy. If their religious belief was that they need to sacrifice their children to Moloch, we wouldn’t be discussing their religious freedom; we’d be keeping all children the hell away from them so that their religion didn’t impact harmfully on others.

    It’s extremely sad, because they might well, for all we know, have been loving and caring parents in other ways and have a strong bond with their children, who now have to go through the trauma of being separated from their parents (although I’m glad to hear that at least there’s a family member who’s able to look after them). But these children cannot safely be left with their parents. If the parents’ religion forbids them from seeking medical care in any circumstances, then it prevents them from being safe parents to their children.

  • Jim Jones

    You need a license to arrange flowers in FL but any morons can have children.

  • Kit Hadley-Day

    this seems pretty cut and dried, if this pair of murderous dingbats had let a dog bleed out in pain then they would never be allowed to own an animal again, and yet they seem to think they should get their kids back, no bloody way, not only should they not get these kids back but all future offspring should be removed at birth unless both of them can demonstrate they understand what their duty of care is.

    I couldn’t care what they choose for themselves, if they want to refuse all medical care and howl hopes into the uncaring sky that is their prerogative, they do not get to make those decisions for other people however, not even people they have produced themselves.

    How come my sincere belief that parents that allow a child to die should not be allowed to be parents gets less credence than their belief in magic?

  • right? I can’t even fathom how they think this is a BETTER term

  • lesne-licho

    Not to mention that they were OK with god making mistakes when they hired a midwife. Hypocritical.

  • Lisa Cybergirl

    Another case of people who believe that they OWN their children, and can do what they please with them.

  • Brian Davis

    Would they have said the same thing if they saw one of their children fall into a pool, or wander in front of a car? Would they have just stood there and said “Must be God’s will.”? Why does healthcare get this special place as an affront to God?

  • Brian Davis

    Or they believe in the wrong God. It’s hard when there are so many choices. Personally, I depend on Yelp reviews. “1 star. Tithed for years. But when I really needed help finding my keys, no one answered my prayers. Don’t understand how they stay in business with such terrible customer service.”

  • Thank you.

  • ClanSutherland

    Isn’t this infanticide?
    Bearing a child and letting it die?
    But from the anti-abortion crowd…crickets.

  • Martin Penwald

    In Idaho, they probably wouldn’t have been arrested.

  • They might, depending on their particular brand of stupidity.

  • Idiots like this are why compulsory sterilization should be a legal option. Sadly, the States have an unfortunate history of abusing it for BS racist reasons.

  • Anonyme

    They might want to read their own Bible. Jesus healed the sick and suffering and his disciple, Luke, was a physician according to Colossians.

  • Anonyme

    My aunt once thanked God for securing her a parking space.
    I managed to keep a straight face.

  • Erik1986

    I was a first born. RH factor was a possibiity for my brother, and they were standing by to transfuse, if necessary. They did not have to do so. That was in 1952. Good thing neither of my folks were particularly religious (dad lapsed Catholic, mom, Anglican cum Buddist leanings). I just cannot fathom this level of…well, religious idiocy.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    The focus of a custody case should be on whether the people in question can provide a safe, appropriate, adequate home for a child.

    Oh it is, that is for sure. It’s not clear from the writeup, but my interpretation is that they are the ones who pushed this up to the supreme court. And the reason they did that is because all the other courts have ruled against them. I could be wrong, but that is my take on it. The reason the other courts have ruled against them is because they are addressing the question of whether the parents can provide a safe, appropriate and adequate home for the children. And part of that care is proper health care. If the parents don’t provide adequate health care, it will be considered an unsafe situation. I think that is what we have seen here.

    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.

    Well, of course they have the RIGHT to PETITION for parental rights. I see nothing unclear or unreasonable about that. Everyone has the right to petition the court and be heard. The court also has the right to laugh them out of the room.

    The thing to note is that, at the moment, they do not have custody of their kids. That means that

    1) CPS thought they had a reason to remove the children from custody, and
    2) CPS was able to defend that action at an initial fact finding hearing. As I alluded to above, CPS can’t just take kids away and keep them for weeks/months/years without court approval. In fact, the initial hearing generally takes place within DAYS of CPS action. Admittedly, that is basically CPS justifying their actions to the court, and is little in terms of in-depth. Not long after, there is a fact-finding hearing, where the evidence is all laid out, and the parents have the opportunity to provide their own evidence. This is where the judge has to make the decision as to whether the children stay with the state or back to the parents, and, in either case, what conditions the parents need to satisfy in order to close the case.

    After that there are regular review hearings (like every 3 months or so, depending on the case) where the parties provide updates of what they have done.

    In order to return the kids back to the parents, the main thing that is going to need to be established is that the problem that caused the removal of the children has been resolved. If it was because of drugs, the parents need to be clean. In the case of abuse, the parents might need to have completed an appropriate abuser treatment program to the satisfaction of the service provider. The reason the parents in this case don’t have the kids back is, presumably, because they have not done anything to show that their attitude toward provide medical care has changed. Therefore, the courts deny them custody. Meanwhile, CPS is saying, for the good of the children, this needs to be resolved (and the state likely has laws to that effect – our state has like a 2 year limit on how long the case can go on before a permanent situation is obtained). They are saying, hey, the parents have not done anything in any of this time to resolve the problems that lead to the removal of the children, and there indication that they are going to. Therefore, they should have their rights terminated. I will note, this is the standard approach for CPS when parents are non-compliant with court orders regarding rehabilitation services.

    The difference in this case is that the parents are arguing that they don’t need to do rehabilitation services because their actions do not rise to the level of an unsafe household, because it’s not that they don’t care for the kids, but they do it differently. This argument has not worked with the lower court(s), obviously, because they don’t have custody of the kids, but they are trying the supreme court of Michigan. I don’t know enough about the law to know what they will decide, but, from a operational perspective, ruling for the parents would have a big effect on the approach of Child Services, and make it so you can’t take kids from parents who are dangerous but well-meaning. That’s a tough bar to set, but we’ll see.

    In the last couple of years, I’ve had opportunity to learn a lot about the child court system. I’ve seen judges rip into bad parents and tell them they need to shape up, and I’ve seen judges rip into CPS and tell them to get their act together. I’ve come to develop a lot of respect for the professionality of lawyers who work for their best interests of their clients in circumstances where their clients don’t do anything to deserve it. The system works best when the parents and CPS work together to resolve the problems. The system also works when the parents don’t do anything, but even in that case, they are given more than ample opportunity to get things going (if anything, they are left with way too much leeway). The challenge comes when the parents deny that there is a problem, even after the court has ruled as such. Actually, that isn’t even really much of an issue – normally, being defiant gets you no where. But here’s a case where they’ve pressed on.

    I think the issue here is that the state can readily show that their actions had nothing to do with religion. Parents that don’t follow standard medical care, for whatever reason, create an unsafe environment. And all they would need to do is to show that the parents would not provide proper care if it happened again to demonstrate that the issue that lead to the initial removal has not been resolved. In that case, they have done their job.

    If the Supreme Court rules that parents are allowed to let their kids die as part of their religion, then a completely different ballgame.

  • Dr Sarah

    Thanks! Really interesting to hear an inside view. My mother works in this field, but in the UK (she’s a lawyer representing parents who are dealing with Social Services, our equivalent in this country).

    It sounds as though the system is at least set up fairly in principle (although no doubt that doesn’t translate to it always working the way it should!) We can only hope that sense will prevail in this case. Heck, this is not only an environment of potential risk, it’s an environment which has actually caused the unnecessary death of a child.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    It sounds as though the system is at least set up fairly in principle (although no doubt that doesn’t translate to it always working the way it should!)

    Here’s what I’d say: 99% of the time, it works fairly and gives the best outcomes. However, there are always cases on the margins that challenge it, and those are the ones that you hear the most about. In our county, there are probably a couple hundred kids in the system at any one time, so even if it is working cleanly in 99% of the cases, there are still a couple-few that are challenging. And that is merely in one relatively small county. Scale that up to the full state, and you have a couple hundred challenging cases. Nationwide, you are into tens of thousands. Not a surprise that you hear about horror stories, because there will be issues out there. It’s a problem of scale – there are just so many.

    As I’ve described, this case, from a CPS and court law perspective, is straightforward. The parents are asking for a major change in the interpretation of what constitutes as harmful environment. If the court allows it, it will have a significant impact on further rulings, but that is their job, to set the law. I really fear the idea of the precedent that can be established here,

  • scotdocbri

    God does, however, help those that help themselves! I think we can assume he’ll help heal sick children if they are actually taken for medical care. Where do they think all medical knowledge came from…?

    BTW, I’m not religious but if you are going to use God to defend yourself others can use God to expose you as idiots.

  • Jeremy

    The medical knowledge came from science, not god.

  • scotdocbri

    Yes, thank you for explaining that. My comment was tongue in cheek. Sorry you didn’t get it.

  • Lambchopsuey

    Cut their throats. Watch them pray.

  • Lambchopsuey

    I homeschooled our children, and in our homeschooling community, there were a dozen or so Mormon families. Within those Mormon families, I knew of FIVE children who had died – 3 that had drowned in pools, one I can’t remember the details, and one that was hit by a car. (Of the FAR more non-Mormon families I’m acquainted with, I’m not aware of a SINGLE INSTANCE where a child has died due to such neglect.) Mormons pressure their members to have too many children, and these brain-dead Mormons think their “god” is going to be their babysitter/nanny. Yeah, and “it” is damn incompetent, too. One of the drowned children had been resuscitated; when I knew the child, she was only 3 years old, so it was uncertain whether mental disability from the drowning would manifest later. She had an older sister who had had cancer of the eye (that’s a thing, I guess) and had had to have her EYE removed (she had a glass prosthesis). Yay Mormon god… It was just grotesque. The stupidity – like burning. Mormons are the worst.

  • Lambchopsuey

    “The Great Physician”, anyone?

  • Lambchopsuey

    Oh, my devout fundagelical Christian mother once told me about a “miracle” she herself had experienced. She and my grandmother were on their way to the monthly Christian Women’s Club luncheon, and they were running late. There was no way they could get there on time. So she said, “Mother, pray!” They both prayed and they got there on time.

    That was it.

    That was the “miracle”.

    I laughed in her face.

    The Christian Women’s Club did not lock the doors; they could have still attended if they’d arrived late. But if they’d been too embarrassed to walk in late in front of those judgmental hateful asshole Christian Women, they could have simply bagged it, gone out for Mexican, and shown up for the next month’s luncheon. Nobody was getting tortured or executed for showing up late.

    Fast forward to years later, and she was dying of ovarian cancer. It had caused monstrous aggressive abdominal tumors to grow out of control from her endometrial lining; she was swelled up like she was 24 months pregnant. She literally suffocated to death, despite pursuing every possible medical intervention, the last of which (a chemotherapy) had offered her a 17% chance of making it into remission. Shouldn’t that have been a cake walk for a REAL “god”? 17%? My father and their whole church were praying for her full recovery. But at a certain point, my father’s prayer changed. He started praying that she would die. And THAT prayer was answered. Praise the Lord O_O

    I wondered – and still wonder today – if, while she lay there, slowly dying (it took, like 3 months), she thought of that completely unnecessary and inconsequential “miracle” her “god” had granted her those years before, to arrive on time to a completely frivolous social event. And how it looked to her as she lay slowly dying, suffocating, no doubt dreaming of drowning and waking up in a panic, unable to catch her breath. How did she think of her “god”, that it would grant such a trivial prayer, but ignore the life-or-death prayers of many? Especially when it was her LIFE on the line and her “Great Physician” was apparently sitting on its hands?

  • Lambchopsuey

    With that argument, they say they are not guilty of her death.

    Well, the less their genes are spread within the population, the better.