Couple Who Let Baby Die Wins Key Court Ruling

Photo Credits: Blue Diamond Gallery

Michigan law stipulates that a parent or guardian legitimately practicing his religious beliefs, thereby failing to provide specified medical treatment for a child, are — for that reason alone —  not considered a negligent parent or guardian.

Two years ago, a Lansing woman refused to seek medical treatment for her newborn daughter, Abigail, even after a midwife warned that the infant's jaundice could lead to brain damage or death. The mother, Rachel Piland, told the midwife that Abigail was fine and that "God ... makes no mistakes," the detective stated at the time. Two days later the infant was dead.

The Patheos reports that a medical examiner later attributed it to “unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus,” both jaundice-related problems that were treatable. Abigail never had the chance to see a doctor when blood was coming out of her mouth, she wasn’t eating, or her skin became further discolored. All because her parents put more trust in God than someone who could actually help.

Seven weeks after the baby’s death, the Pilands’ two other sons were taken from their custody. Last year, the couple had another baby and the baby had the same health issues as Abigail. That’s why state officials took the baby shortly after her birth and provided the treatment her sister never received. The Pilands, who say they were just practicing their faith when they killed their baby, appealed the first court’s decision.

Ingham County Circuit Judge Laura Baird said that law didn’t apply because the issue, in this case, involved “neglect” and that was part of a separate body of law. The parents appealed the decision and sadly they won.  The MI Supreme Court ruled that Baird was wrong, upholding the Court of Appeals ruling. That means if the defense can show the parents were simply living out their religious beliefs, they can point to a state law that says they’re not negligent parents, therefore they should retain custody of their kids.

The Pilands appear to have been involved with a Lansing-based Bible school called Faith Tech Ministries, which describes itself online as nondenominational but similar to other “full gospel” or “Pentecostal” organizations.

"This was a gravely ill child who was in need of emergency medical treatment," Ingham County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kahla Crino said. "They watched her suffer. They did nothing, and she died. This is child abuse in the first degree. This is not mere negligence."

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