Commentary by Mat Staver, the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, Chairman of Liberty Counsel Action, Chairman of Liberty Action PAC, Chairman of The Salt & Light Council, Vice President and Chief Counsel for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and serves on a number of other boards. Mat also serves as Dean and Professor of Law for Liberty University School of Law. Mat is a nationally recognized constitutional attorney and appellate advocate. He has argued cases before the United States Supreme Court and submitted numerous briefs to the High Court. Mat is a Trustee for the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Her name is Justina Pelletier, and her case has attracted national attention. She is the 15-year-old daughter of Lou and Linda Pelletier, who dearly love her. Justina comes from an intact family. There is no family dispute about her care or custody, but her parents are only allowed 30 minutes each week of supervised visitation at a nonmedical residential facility.
On the most recent visit, her mother was not alone with her daughter. She had to share her few minutes with five workers from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and a police officer.
You must think that Lou and Linda are terrible parents. On the contrary, they love their daughter. Her father said, “I am a strong man, but I cannot bear to see the pain my daughter is suffering.”
Before she was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital, just a little over a year ago in January, she was competing in an ice-skating competition, but now she is confined to a wheelchair. Lou and Linda want to transfer her care to Tufts Medical Center where, until February 2013, she was properly being treated for mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder with physical symptoms that can affect every part of the body. But when they tried last year, DCF stepped in and got a court order against the parents.
This unbelievable story begins on Feb. 10, 2013, when Justina was taken to the emergency room at Boston Children’s Hospital after a severe bout with the flu. Within 12 hours of her admittance, Jurriaan Peters, a new doctor in his seventh month of internship, changed the working diagnosis from mitochondrial disease to somatoform disorder, meaning that the young doctor didn’t believe Justina and assumed the problem was mental, not physical.
On Feb. 14, 2013, doctors with Boston Children’s Hospital laid out a new treatment plan for Justina that changed both her diagnoses and treatments. Unhappy with the hospital’s refusal to even consult her previous doctors, the parents refused to sign off on the new treatments. They decided instead to stick with her original doctor, but when the parents attempted to check their daughter out of Boston Children’s Hospital to take her back to Tufts Medical Center to resume medical treatment, they were told by hospital workers that Justina could not be discharged.
The hospital, upset at the family’s refusal to sign off on the new treatments, dispatched security guards to deny the parents access to their daughter while they notified DCF. The Pelletiers then called 911 and claimed their daughter had been kidnapped by Boston Children’s Hospital.
The Pelletiers state that three detectives spoke to the family, and then they were brought into a room where the medical team told them the hospital had contacted the DCF and under a “51A,” the section of Massachusetts law that mandates health officials and others to report suspected child abuse, they were taking custody of their daughter.
Justina was then moved to Bader Five in Boston Children’s Hospital, the psychiatric ward, where she stayed until nearly the end of January 2014. DCF then moved her to Wayside Youth and Family Support, a nonmedical treatment facility. She is no longer receiving the pain medication she needed for the mitochondrial disease. The parents report she suffers every day with excruciating pain. The parents are tormented, knowing their daughter is in pain and her condition is deteriorating rapidly without proper treatment.
DCF went before a juvenile court in order to keep Justina away from the parents. Judge Joseph Johnston bought the DCF line that Justina and her parents must be making up her pain and that it must all be in her head. But if it were true that the parents were making up Justina’s symptoms and taking her for unnecessary medical care, then her condition would improve if the parents were separated from her, as they have been for over a year. But instead of Justina’s symptoms improving, her health has rapidly declined.
Children who are wards of the state may be included in research, and now the parents wonder if Justina has been the subject of research without their knowledge or consent.
Last year the story caught the attention of a local news reporter for the Boston Globe, who initially broke the story and followed up with another detailed report. The reporter found that at least five other families had experienced the same treatment by DCF as the Pelletiers. But when the reporter contacted DCF for a comment, DCF ran to Judge Johnston, who stated verbally without any written order that the Pelletiers could no longer post any updates about Justina on their Facebook page, “A Miracle for Justina,” and could not speak to the media. Now DCF could do their work under cover of night, without scrutiny from the outside world.
The Pelletiers finally got their day in court last December, but Judge Johnston has failed to put his ruling in writing. As each week went by and Justina’s health continued to decline, Lou, thinking that surely he could now speak to the media, told his story to Glenn Beck on TheBlaze, ABC News, and Fox News. After the media coverage, the agency rushed back to Judge Johnston, demanding that the father be held in contempt for speaking to the media.
What possible argument could one have to prevent parents from speaking to the media about their daughter’s well-being or posting status updates about Justina on Facebook? Here we have no jury trial. Even the hearing before the judge is past. The only possible reason is that DCF is afraid of the public scrutiny.
This case is outrageous. Here are two parents who love their daughter. There is no conflict between the parents and the daughter. The parents were providing quality care for their daughter at Tufts Medical Center, along with other competent doctors. How can an emergency room visit for a severe flu result in the parents being relegated to 30 minutes of supervised visitation one day a week? How is it that DCF can argue that the parents should not be allowed to talk to the media about their daughter? How could the court system fail so miserably?
When the story came to the attention of Liberty Counsel we did a lot of research to see if we could make sense of this mess. But the more we researched, the more it became apparent that this is a case where DCF had inflicted a great injustice upon a family. This is a case that cries out for justice.
The story is so bizarre that you would think there must be something else going on here. But the more you investigate the facts, the more shocked you are at DCF and the juvenile court system that has failed Justina and her parents. After a year without proper medical treatment and being separated from the family who loves and cares for her, Justina’s body has been physically weakened. Without the proper care and treatment, her future looks dim.
No parent wants to have their child kidnapped. But to have the child you love taken by the state and to be forced to watch your daughter slowly die before your eyes, when you know she could thrive with the proper medical treatment, is almost too much to bear.
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