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Couple seeks to keep children after refusing medical treatment for sick newborn

Michigan Supreme Court
Adobe Stock

The Michigan Supreme Court is considering a case that could set boundaries on parents’ rights to refuse to seek medical treatment for sick children.

A couple says they should not lose their children because they made a fatal decision to not seek medical treatment for their newborn baby.

Rachel and Joshua Piland say they made the decision to not seek treatment for their three-day-old daughter based on their religious beliefs. She died of conditions related to jaundice. 

Vivek Sankaran is the parents’ attorney. He says they have the right under Michigan law to make faith-based medical decisions, even if they are risky.

“If something wrong happens to that child as a result of a failure to vaccinate, it’s the same case as we have here as far as we’re concerned,” he says.

He says a jury should decide whether the parents’ decision warrants taking away their other children.

Kayla Crino, with the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, says the law does not protect parents who make reckless decisions regarding a child’s welfare.

“And, ultimately, because of that decision to do absolutely nothing, the child died. This is child abuse in the first degree,” says Crino.

Because the Supreme Court is being asked to rule on a jury instruction, the custody case would still go back to the lower court regardless of the decision.

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