Parents win appeal in rights dispute after child’s death

Ed White
Associated Press
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Detroit – The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for a Lansing couple who lost parental rights to three children after they failed to seek medical care for a newborn who died from jaundice-related complications.

The result of the custody trial was spoiled because a jury wasn’t allowed to consider the role of religious beliefs when the couple skipped care for the child, the appeals court said.

Under state law, a parent “legitimately practicing” his or her religious beliefs when denying care can’t be found negligent on that reason alone, the court said in a 3-0 opinion Thursday.

“A rational view of the evidence supported the jury instruction, and the trial court erred by not giving it,” said judges Michael Kelly, Thomas Cameron and Kirsten Frank Kelly.

If given, a jury still can reject that defense based on the evidence, the court noted.

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

“Those beliefs are not supported by any law, doctrine, or canon of any religion,” Judge Richard Garcia said at that time in denying the jury instruction. “They are religious in nature, but that does not rise to the level of a legitimate practicing of a religious belief.”

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

Separately, the Pilands are facing criminal charges in their daughter’s death.

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