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by Sharon Rondeau

Justina Pelletier’s parents have been struggling to regain custody of their 15-year-old daughter after doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital claimed that the parents were guilty of “medical child abuse” over a different diagnosis

(May 3, 2014) — On Friday, several news outlets reported that during a scheduled visit between the Pelletier family and their daughter, Justina, at a Massachusetts DCF office in Dorchester, they called 911 to relate that Justina had reported abuse while in the shower on an unspecified day.

Justina was placed into the “permanent” custody of Massachusetts DCF after her parents, who had sought medical treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital early last year when Justina was suffering from flu symptoms, disagreed with the hospital’s diagnosis and sought to discharge her to return to Tufts Medical Center, where she had been treated for several years.  Instead, BCH doctors who had taken charge of Justina’s case contacted DCF, claiming that the Pelletiers were guilty of “medical child abuse.”

The two BCH doctors claimed that Justina was suffering from somatoform disorder rather than the mitochondrial disease with which Tufts had diagnosed her.  Justina’s older sister is also reportedly treated for mitochondrial disease.

The Pelletiers reside in West Hartford, CT, and have four daughters.

One of the doctors reportedly had just acquired his medical license seven months before diagnosing Justina’s condition at Boston Children’s Hospital.

In late 2013, after a trial was held to evaluate who should gain custody of Justina, a judge ruled that Justina’s parents were “unfit” to care for her.   DCF reportedly alleged that the Pelletiers were abusive based on a report allegedly received by “Connecticut officials,” but the parents and their supporters deny that their home has ever been scrutinized for abuse or neglect.

Several similar cases have reportedly arisen at Boston Children’s Hospital in which “the Department of Children and Families often stands with the Boston Children’s Hospital on complex cases like Pelletier’s, given the hospital’s top-level expertise in the medical field.”

Lou Pelletier believes that his daughter has been used for medical experiments, as a “lab rat” would be, during her 16 months in state custody.  For approximately a year, Justina was kept secluded in the psychiatric wing of Boston Children’s Hospital after DCF took custody away from Lou and his wife Linda.

A letter written to the Massachusetts DCF commissioner by a 40-year registered nurse acting as an advocate for the Pelletiers, and Justina specifically, stated that Justina had been “forced to accept her imprisonment to relinquish her basic human rights…she is the ward of a state devoid of compassion and conscience, prohibited from contact with every facet of her life that holds meaning for her…”

A defender of BCH’s claims of medical abuse on the part of Justina’s parents stated that “The doctors at Boston Children’s had few options if they really believed in their diagnosis. Just as the treatment for strep throat is antibiotics, the treatment for medical child abuse is separating a child from her parents. Sending Justina Pelletier home would have represented the height of irresponsibility if their diagnosis was correct. One in 10 children who suffers medical abuse eventually dies at the hands of his or her parent.”  The quoted writer, Brian Palmer, is not a physician, but rather, is identified as “Slate’s chief explainer.”

A psychologist at the Ph.D. level stated of Justina’s case that “BCH’s psychiatrists kept Justina in a locked psychiatric ward for nine months.  Apparently it never occurred to them that they might have made an error, or that they had acted too hastily. Psychiatry seldom engages in anything even remotely akin to critical self-scrutiny.  They have resisted the parents’ protests at every step of the way, and have been backed throughout by the court.  It is only because of the public outrage that the facts are emerging.  Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health has called for a full investigation of the matter.  One can readily imagine the kinds of pressures that will be brought to bear to whitewash the entire affair.  Let us all, individually and collectively, do what we can to ensure that this does not happen.”

Justina is allowed only one weekly visit of an hour’s duration with her family which is “supervised.”

The family has reported that over the last 16 months, Justina’s hairline has receded and she has become confined to a wheelchair when she was competitively figure-skating in January of last year.  A Facebook page bearing Justina’s name shows that she appears to have been skating since childhood.

The Pelletiers, who are Catholic, say that Justina has not been able to attend mass for 14 months, and in an email notification from Liberty Counsel before Easter, Justina’s sister was quoted as having reported that Justina would not be allowed to visit with family members on Easter Sunday for an unspecified reason.

In the incident reported to police on Friday, an unknown person, presumed to be a staffer at the facility where Justina is court-ordered to stay, allegedly refused to leave the area while Justina was showering and “started yelling” at her.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” Justina’s mother Linda said of the allegations.

Rep. Steve Stockman has introduced legislation which would “‘[cut] off funds to medical institutions that’ act unreasonably regarding ‘research on wards of the state,’ or who ‘take children away from their parents over disagreements on subjective medical diagnoses.'”

Last month, retired and well-known law professor Alan Dershowitz reportedly offered his help on a pro bono basis to the Pelletiers, which the family was said to have accepted.  At the end of March, Dershowitz told Mike Huckabee of Fox News that the Pelletier case “is of great, great concern” to him and his wife, who worked at Boston Children’s in the field of neurophysiology.  “If there’s anything I can do to restore the parental rights here…” Dershowitz said, contending that even if the Tufts diagnosis is incorrect, the parents should decide which treatment their daughter should receive.

Dershowitz said that “Under our legal system, when there’s a conflict on a medical opinion, the parents get to resolve that…and the gag order is clearly unconstitutional,” he added, referring to an order imposed by a DCF judge but which Justina’s father, Lou, had defied as he saw his daughter’s condition deteriorate earlier this year.

On his show last Saturday, Huckabee suggested that a criminal cover-up has been carried out by Massachusetts DCF and its accomplices.  Mat Staver, attorney and founder of Liberty Counsel, a public advocacy group for constitutional rights, is now representing the Pelletiers.

Complaints have been filed with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, and with Massachusetts DCF, whose commissioner resigned last week after three children in the agency’s care were found dead.

Justina’s parents are reportedly meeting with the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services on Monday to discuss a possible reunification plan, despite the judge’s order in March that Justina remain in state custody until she turns 18.

DCF’s budget will reportedly be increased “by a total of 37 or 38 million dollars,” said a Massachusetts lawmaker in response to the commissioner’s resignation.

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