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.
The story of 15-year-old Justina Pelletier captured the hearts of many Americans as the horrible story of the young girl’s plight over the past 13 months was brought to light by the media.
Following the advice Dr. Mark Korson, Justina’s treating physician at Tufts Medical Center, Lou and Linda Pelletier took their daughter to the ER at Boston Children’s Hospital. But there, a new doctor, seven months out of medical school, disagreed with her treating physicians and changed Justina’s diagnosis to a mental rather than a physical condition.
When the parents refused to sign a new treatment plan that would preclude them from seeking a second opinion, the hospital called in the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) and prevented the parents from discharging their daughter and taking her back to Tufts Medical Center. For the past 13 months DCF has taken custody of Justina, making her a ward of the state and, thus, eligible for research by the Boston teaching hospital.
DCF also obtained a gag order preventing the parents from speaking to the media. Watching their daughter’s health decline and with no progress on the case, Lou spoke to the media. DCF then sought to hold the father in contempt of court. That is when Liberty Counsel came to the aid of Justina and her family.
Within four days after Liberty Counsel joined the case, DCF began to backpedal. Yesterday the court approved an agreement to (1) drop the contempt charges against Lou Pelletier for speaking to the media, (2) dissolve the gag order, and (3) transfer Justina’s medical care to Tufts Medical Center where Dr. Korson, a specialist, had been treating her for mitochondrial disease.
But DCF is still holding Justina as a ward of the state. This is the same DCF that has lost 134 children in the agency’s custody. The children of 134 parents are missing, and DCF has no idea where they are located.
As more of the details of this case come to light, people are becoming increasingly outraged. It is unfathomable that this barbaric overreach by a state agency is taking place in America – and in the city that launched the fight for American liberty, of all places.
As a Massachusetts ward of the state, Justina has been refused access to education. She is denied visitation by clergy, with no allowance for religious observances, including Easter and Christmas.
Her sisters have rarely been able to see her, and her 92-year-old grandparents have not seen her for 13 months. Justina’s parents were only allowed weekly visits for one hour – and that under extreme supervision, including a Massachusetts State Trooper. DCF prevented the parents from even having a cell phone to photograph their daughter.
Under Massachusetts law, prison inmates get up to five visits per week, medical care, and education rights. DCF has granted Justina one visit per week, little medical care, and no education, even though she is just 15 years of age.
Justina Pelletier has been treated far worse than an incarcerated felon by the state of Massachusetts!
Plus, unknown to many people, Boston Children’s Hospital is a chartered teaching hospital and is allowed to conduct medical research and experimentation on children who are declared wards of the state. According to Boston’s Children Hospital’s “Clinical and Investigation Policy and Procedure Manual“: “Children who are wards of the state may be included in research that presents minimal risk… or greater than minimal risk with a prospect of direct benefit.”
Justina’s abuse as a DCF ward is unfathomable. No 15-year-old should be forced to live under such conditions!
In January 2013, before she was admitted to the Emergency Room at Boston’s Children Hospital, Justina was involved in ice-skating competitions and was in a private school under an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that was sensitive to her learning disability.
As a ward, Justina’s deficient medical care has left her extremely weak and confined to a wheelchair. Being refused education, she is now two years behind her classmates.
After learning of the Pelletier’s plight and performing our own background investigation of the case, I flew to Boston to represent the family in court against the contempt charges directed at Lou Pelletier for allegedly breaking a court-ordered gag order.
The media scrutiny and legal proceedings have caused DCF to reconsider their course of action and begin to back away from the abusively hard-core stance it has taken on this matter. But make no mistake, DCF must be held accountable!
More than a dozen Massachusetts state legislators blasted the Department of Children and Families for “breaking up” the Pelletier family and decried the ill-advised imprisonment of Justina Pelletier. They are now calling for the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight to launch a full-scale investigation into DCF’s handling of the case.
The idea of a medical facility removing a child from a loving family – a family in which there is no history or evidence of abuse of any kind – is a chilling thought.
This poor girl and her family have been through hell. DCF should be held accountable for this flagrant violation of its authority and abuse of government power.
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