Lansing dad and mom win attraction in custody trial over youngster’s loss of life

Ed White, Associated Press

Posted April 17, 2021 at 10:48 am ET


DETROIT (AP) – The Michigan appeals court ruled a new Lansing couple who lost parental rights to three children after failing to receive medical care for a newborn baby who died of jaundice complications.

The outcome of the custody trial was tainted because a jury was unable to consider the role of religious beliefs when the couple failed to care for the child, the appeals court said.

Under state law, a parent who “lawfully practices” their religious beliefs if they refuse to care cannot be classified as negligent for that reason alone, the court said in a 3-0 statement on Thursday.

“A rational view of the evidence supported the jury’s instruction, and the court was wrong in not giving it,” said Judges Michael Kelly, Thomas Cameron and Kirsten Frank Kelly.

If any, a jury can still deny that defense based on the evidence, the court found.

Rachel Piland gave birth to a daughter in her home in 2017. The midwife noticed signs of jaundice, but Piland and her husband Joshua did not seek emergency care and instead prayed. Abigail died after a few days.

“These beliefs are not supported by any law, doctrine or canon of any religion,” said Judge Richard Garcia at the time when he denied the jury’s instruction. “They are religious in nature, but that does not result in the legitimate exercise of any religious belief.”

However, the appeals court said that the Pilands believed in “divine healing” and that Garcia misinterpreted state law.

Regardless of this, the Pilands are prosecuted for the death of their daughter.

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