Judge grants ‘permanent custody’ to state in Justina Pelletier case, Harvard law prof offers to help
BOSTON, MA, April 3, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Massachusetts judge ruled last week that Justina Pelletier, a sick teenager who was removed from her family a year ago after a dispute between her parents and hospital officials, will remain a ward of the state on a “permanent” basis – i.e. until she turns 18 years of age.
Pelletier, 15, was ordered into state custody over a year ago when officials at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) accused her parents of faking her debilitating mitochondrial illness and forcing unnecessary treatments on her – a practice known as Munchausen’s syndrome or medical child abuse.
Previously, doctors at Tufts University Medical Center had diagnosed the girl with mitochondrial disorder, a rare disease that prevents the body’s cells from using energy properly. Symptoms vary, but can include fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal distress, weakened immune response, and emotional depression, all of which Pelletier displayed, resulting in her testing and diagnosis at Tufts.
In 2013, Pelletier’s Tufts-based doctor referred her to a gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s Hospital to be treated for complications of the flu. But when the Pelletiers arrived at the hospital, they were denied access to the gastroenterologist.
A new team of doctors said the girl’s problems were all in her head – and placed there by her parents. They diagnosed her with somatic symptom disorder, a psychiatric illness better known as hypochondria.
When Pelletier’s father tried to have her discharged so they could take her back to Tufts, hospital security blocked all the exits. The hospital filed charges of medical child abuse and asked the state to grant them custody. On February 13, 2013, a judge gave custody of Pelletier to the DCF, who work hand-in-hand with Boston Children’s Hospital on most medical cases and have deferred to their judgment rather than that of her previous caretakers at Tufts throughout the case.
As a result, for the last 14 months, Pelletier has been locked up in two different psychiatric wards – BCH’s and more recently, a long-term residential facility in Framingham – with limited access to her parents, who can only visit her once a week. They say her physical condition is deteriorating, and they have repeatedly petitioned the court to allow them to take her home to Connecticut and manage her care on their own.
But those hopes have been dashed, at least for now, by Judge Joseph Johnston, who granted permanent custody of Pelletier to DCF last week, noting that he sides with BCH in favoring a psychiatric, not physical diagnosis. He largely blamed Pelletier’s parents for his decision, citing their ongoing hostility toward DCF and BCH in the wake of what they have repeatedly called their daughter’s “kidnapping.” He said he did not trust them to hold up their end of any bargain made with the hospital or family services when they are still so obviously angry.
“The parents … continue to engage in very concerning conduct that does not give this court any confidence they will comply with conditions of custody,” Johnston wrote. He cited Lou Pelletier’s repeated communications with the press and unkind treatment of DCH and hospital staff as “impeding progress” in the case. “There is absolutely no meaningful dialogue by the parents to work toward reunification,” he wrote.
A spokesman for the family told the Boston Globe last week that Lou and Linda Pelletier were “outraged” by the decision, and feel they shouldn’t have to earn back the right to raise their daughter by acquiescing to the demands of people who shouldn’t have taken her in the first place.
“There is no reason Justina should not be returned immediately back to the parents,” said Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who has been working with the Pelletiers to get their daughter back. He said the girl is being “treated as a pawn and piece of property.”
In a Fox News interview last weekend, prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, agreed.
Dershowitz insisted he has great respect for BCH, where his wife practiced for years as a doctor of neuropsychology, but said, “Neither my wife nor I can understand this case. The Massachusetts law is clear. When you have a conflict of medical opinion – and here you have Tufts medical school, which is one of the greatest medical schools in the country, [and] Children’s Hospital, part of the Harvard teaching hospital system – you allow those conflicts of medical care to be resolved by the parents. The state doesn’t come in and tell you you have to accept the medical opinion of one hospital over the other.”
“If what we’ve heard is true, this is a horrible abuse of human rights, of civil liberties,” said Dershowitz.
“I’d like to help out, too,” Dershowitz added. “I’m a member of the Massachusetts bar and if there’s anything I can do to restore the parental rights [I’d like to.]”
Fox News reported Tuesday that Lou Pelletier was thrilled with Dershowitz’s offer, and that Dershowitz will likely be serving the family pro-bono in a consulting role.
“I have reached out to one of the family's representatives, and we are trying to set up a discussion on how to proceed," Dershowitz told the network.
Meanwhile, Eric Odom of the LibertyNews blog published a report from someone “close to the situation” saying that as soon as DCF was granted permanent custody, they moved to strip Pelletier’s parents of their already limited visitation rights. Instead of in-person visits with their daughter, the source said, they would be allowed to see her only via Skype.
“The report we have says the parents may now only communicate with Justina via controlled and supervised Skype conversations,” Odom wrote. “In essence, Justina now has fewer rights than someone convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.”
However, according to Odom’s sources, as soon as word of the decision hit the internet, DCF backtracked, fearing a “media firestorm.”
Meanwhile, Pelletier’s parents say her condition continues to decline. “She hasn’t had any blood tests in 13 months,” her mother, Linda Pelletier, told Fox News. “We learned yesterday that she has a urinary tract infection.”
“She’s awful,” added Lou Pelletier. “She’s paralyzed and has bruises on her body. … It’s just one thing after another.”