In the Monday morning chill, about a dozen protesters gathered outside a Boston court to support the family of Justina Pelletier, the teenager at the center of a controversial custody and parents’ rights battle with its roots in a disagreement over two medical diagnoses.
Protest organizer Melissa Kerins told TheBlaze she thinks supporter numbers could rise as high as 100.
“We anticipate this one will be the largest of all of them,” Kerins said, adding that previous protests have seen about 20 people.
Protesters held signs, which were not on sticks because Kerins said police could view them as weapons, that read “You can’t gag America,” “save Justina,” “freedom for Justina” and more.
“I expect that having very strong support for the family will [help] them but also show the world that we’re not going to accept that our children can just be taken away from us without any proof, evidence or conviction. It’s unacceptable and we’re not going to tolerate this,” Kerins said.
Lou and Linda Pelletier, Justina’s parents, have appeared in court several times in the last year after the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families took custody of the 15-year-old from West Hartford, Conn., when Boston Children’s Hospital alleged she had been the victim of medical child abuse.
The Pelletiers had been treating Justina for mitochondrial disease under the diagnosis and direction administered by their Tufts Medical Center physician. When Justina had complications with the flu in February 2013, it was recommended that they take her to Boston Children’s Hospital to see a gastrointestinal specialist.
When they arrived at the hospital, they were admitted by another doctor, a neurologist, who ended up disagreeing with Justina’s mitochondrial disease diagnosis, saying she instead had somatoform disorder, which is psychological.
Several days later, when the Pelletiers learned that Boston Children’s doctors wanted to take Justina off treatments for mitochondrial disease, they disagreed. They tried to have their daughter discharged and brought back to Tufts, but instead they were met with a DCF form alleging that they were over-medicalizing their daughter for a disease that the second set of doctors believed she didn’t have.
That was Feb. 14, 2013. Since that date, the Pelletiers have been able to visit their daughter for one hour each week. They say that without treatment for medically diagnosed mitochondrial disease, her health is worsening.
Earlier this month, a judge ruled that Justina be moved from Boston Children’s Hospital to another facility, but the course of her care is still being decided. Last week, Lou Pelletier told TheBlaze Justina wasn’t even at a medical facility anymore, awaiting today’s hearing to decide the course of her care.
“She needs physical therapy. She needs to be back on the vitamin cocktail. She needs to be treated for the goddamn diagnosis she had from the beginning,” Lou told TheBlaze in a face-to-face interview a week ago. “I need to save my daughter. If we don’t do something, she is going to die.”
The family’s hope is that Monday’s hearing will bring Justina back to Connecticut where she could be treated for mitochondrial disease.
The hearing will also address the motion by DCF that Lou Pelletier be held in contempt of court after he broke his silence speaking with the media, including TheBlaze last week, an action which DCF says violated a judge-issued gag order.
“The gag order is not in writing,” said Mat Stavver, founder and chairman with Liberty Counsel, which is advising the Pelletiers. “It was apparently something that the judge mentioned to the attorneys in a sidebar.”
In addition to opposing the contempt motion, Staver said they hoped to have the gag order overturned completely because, as he sees it, “it’s unconstitutional, prohibiting parents from talking about their daughter’s medical treatment.”
Staver told TheBlaze he can’t see any reason why a gag order should have been imposed in the first place.
“There’s no jury trial, no impending trial, no risk to have a bias,” he said.
As for Justina’s situation, Staver said that the more he evaluated the case “the more I’m in disbelief as to the circumstances.”
Kerins, the protest organizer from Boston, said she is a concerned parent whose son has PANDAS, Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections. In 2012, Boston Children’s Hospital and DCF were involved in a similar custody case involving then-16-year-old Elizabeth Wray and her parents. It was at this time that Kerins began organizing similar protests for parents’ rights in defense of Wray.
This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Mat Staver’s last name, which was incorrectly spelled Starver.