Daily Dispatches
Boston Children's Hospital entrance
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Boston Children's Hospital entrance

Judge rules doctors know best in teen’s case

Health

A Massachusetts judge ruled this week against the parents of a Connecticut teen who has been hospitalized without her mother and father’s consent for more than a year.

Judge Joseph Johnston on Tuesday granted permanent custody of 15-year-old Justina Pelletier to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). If the ruling withstands appeals, Justina will likely be in state custody until she is 18.

The brawl over the girl started in February 2013 after she was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital. Justina received psychiatric care there for almost a year and is now living in a residential treatment center outside of Boston. The ruling on her custody follows a battle between doctors, lawyers, her parents, and the child welfare agencies of two states that culminated in a trial at the end of last year.

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Prior to her admission at Boston Children’s, doctors at Tufts Medical Center in Boston were treating Justina for mitochondrial disease, a group of rare disorders that affects the function of multiple systems in the body and results in severe fatigue. Philip Moran, the family’s attorney, and Lou Pelletier, Justina’s father, have described Justina’s history in numerous media interviews. They said doctors at Tufts wanted a specialist at Boston Children’s to see Justina for gastrointestinal problems. She was transferred to Boston Children’s by ambulance and processed through the emergency room when she arrived. Emergency room doctors said that Justina did not have mitochondrial disease, and other doctors at the hospital agreed. Her symptoms were psychosomatic, they decided, and she needed psychiatric care.

Justina’s family argued with the hospital to get her the care that the Tufts doctors originally recommended. Boston Children’s accused the Pelletiers of subjecting Justina to unnecessary medical tests and treatments and ignoring her psychiatric problems, The Boston Globe reported. On Justina’s behalf, the hospital appealed to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to take custody of the teen and to allow the hospital to direct her care. A judge granted temporary custody of Justina to the state.

The events that followed were complicated by the fact that Justina’s family lives in Connecticut, two hours from Boston. According to Johnston’s court ruling, the Massachusetts DCF relied on its Connecticut counterpart to assess Justina’s home life and help suggest the best solution—whether to return her to her home or to a facility closer to where she lived. Ultimately, Connecticut decided Justina should not return to the Pelletier’s custody at this time. But the judge said Connecticut officials lengthened the process by being slow and uncooperative.

The Pelletiers made matters worse with their conduct, the judge said. Justina’s father, Lou Pelletier, has sworn at hospital staff and threatened lawsuits at other hospitals where Justina could have been transferred. Lou Pelletier said he was just venting justifiable anger at the people who took away his daughter.

“There’s never been a complaint about the Pelletier family regarding our daughter, our family, prior to Boston Children’s Hospital getting involved,” Pelletier told FoxNews.com this week. The Pelletiers are receiving legal counsel from the Christian Defense Coalition. The family professes Christian faith and has built a base of support among its neighbors and state legislators. Former Arkansas Gov.Mike Huckabee and talk show host Glenn Beck have made public statements in support of the Pelletiers. 

In his ruling, the judge agreed with the doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Based on credible psychiatric and medical evidence, this court has found that Justina suffers from a persistent and severe Somatic Symptom Disorder,” Johnston wrote. “Justina Pelletier is a child in need of care and protection pursuant … to the conduct and inability of her parents, Linda Pelletier and Lou Pelletier, to provide for Justina’s necessary and proper physical, mental, and emotional development.”

In the months since she left her family’s care, Justina has not attended school, and her family claims her health has deteriorated to the point where she is confined to a wheelchair.

“Tufts was working fine with her, diagnosed medically, going to school, ice skating and doing all those things,” Lou Pelletier told FoxNews.com. “Look at her then and look at her now.”

Lynde Langdon
Lynde Langdon

Lynde lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. She holds degrees from the University of Missouri in journalism, Russian, and business administration. She is in a long-term, committed relationship with the Lutheran church. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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