LANSING - Last year, when Joshua and Rachel Piland’s infant daughter died of complications from jaundice after the couple allegedly refused to seek medical treatment because of their religious beliefs, officials charged them with manslaughter.
Two weeks ago, when Rachel gave birth to another daughter with similar health problems, the couple again refused medical treatment. So, hours after Verity Piland's birth, state officials seized the newborn and took her to the hospital, where she received lifesaving blood transfusions.
The dramatic series of events, laid out in court records, began in February 2017 when police were called to the Pilands’ home several hours after 3-day-old Abigail Piland died.
The Pilands told investigators they ignored a midwife's advice to seek medical treatment for the infant because “God makes no mistakes,” and they believe in the power of prayer, the State Journal previously reported.
Rather than seek medical treatment for Abigail, who was born at their home near the Lansing Country Club, the Pilands tried to treat her jaundice by keeping her in a sunny room. After she died, the couple spent hours praying for the infant’s resurrection, the records show.
Police learned of the infant's death only after receiving a call from a relative in California.
The Pilands were charged with manslaughter in September, and their two surviving older children were placed into the care of their maternal grandparents, where they remain.
Life-saving treatment for Rh disease
Court records do not say whether a midwife assisted with Verity Piland's July 17 birth, but someone filed a complaint that same day with Child Protective Services.
Officials acted swiftly, citing "anticipatory neglect" as they petitioned an Ingham County Circuit Court judge to remove Verity from her parents' care.
“There are current concerns for the safety and wellbeing of the newborn baby as the previous concerns which brought this family to the court’s attention have yet to be rectified,” a CPS investigator wrote.
A judge agreed, and within hours of her birth, Verity was taken to a local hospital.
Doctors immediately noticed the newborn was “significantly jaundiced” and said she may have Rh disease, which would require a “massive” blood transfusion to combat the problem, the court records show.
Rh disease, also known as Rh incompatibility, is a form of anemia which the National Institute of Health says can be dangerous, but is usually detected and treated with standard medical care during and after pregnancy.
The disease stems from the Rh factor of the mother’s blood: If her Rh factor is negative but the baby’s Rh factor is positive, the mother may produce antibodies which enter the womb and attack the baby’s red blood cells.
The disease typically isn’t a problem during a woman’s first pregnancy, but the risk factor increases with each additional pregnancy that involves a baby with a positive Rh factor.
And while it isn’t always life threatening, the disease sometimes requires blood transfusions during pregnancy or shortly after birth.
More on Joshua and Rachel Piland:
In Verity's case, doctors performed a blood transfusion to combat the newborn's high levels of bilirubin, a compound that forms when red blood cells break down.
When that didn't work, they opted for an exchange transfusion, which replaces the entire blood supply, Aaron Kerr, Verity's uncle, told the State Journal.
Nearly two weeks later, Verity remains hospitalized, but so far seems to be recovering, said Kerr, who is Rachel Piland's brother.
"She’s still being evaluated and checked. We’re hopeful that there are no long-term complications, but I don’t think we can say 100% yet whether that’s the case."
Rh disease was not listed as Abigail Piland’s formal cause of death, but the infant’s medical problems — jaundice, and the high levels of bilirubin which killed her — are similar to what doctors found in Verity.
Pilands involved in 2 court cases
While it's not yet clear whether Joshua and Rachel Piland will face additional criminal charges related to Verity's health, the couple has remained free on a bond of $75,000 each since they were charged in September with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Abigail's death.
Joshua, 37 and Rachel, 31, each face up to 15 years if convicted. A trial date in that case has not been set.
An attorney representing Rachel Piland declined to comment, while Joshua Piland's attorney could not immediately be reached.
Meanwhile, a separate trial to determine whether their parental rights over the two older children will be permanently terminated for neglect has been delayed for months over a squabble about the instructions which will be given to jurors.
A state child protection law says a parent "legitimately practicing his religious beliefs" who doesn't provide medical treatment for a child cannot be considered negligent for that reason alone.
Attorneys representing the Pilands argued jurors should be instructed on the law because it was the basis of their defense.
Ingham County Circuit Judge Laura Baird disagreed, saying that negligence and neglect are "two different bodies of law" in child protection cases.
But the Pilands' attorneys appealed, and in May the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Baird's decision. Prosecutors have asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review the case, Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon said.
In the meantime, DHHS officials also have moved to terminate the couple's parental rights with respect to Verity, and a pretrial hearing in that case is set for Aug. 9.
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