A human rights group says it has organized people to make hundreds of calls to court officials asking them to “release Justina Pelletier,” the Connecticut teen at the center of an ongoing, high-profile custody battle.
Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, said more than 500 calls have been made so far to the office of the Suffolk County Juvenile Court, which is overseeing the Pelletier case. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families took custody of the 15-year-old last year after doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital disagreed with her parents and another doctor’s diagnosis.
A person who answered the phone at the court Friday morning was not able to comment, but passed along TheBlaze’s request for confirmation on the number of calls that have been made.
“For us we see a person, a young girl who was been taken away from her family,” Mason said, noting why the organization began a call-the-judge initiative. “It’s very clear from what they say and from we can see that her dignity is not being respected. She’s not being treated as a person but as a piece of property of the state. That’s where we say, ‘no we’re going to step up, we’re going to get something done.”
“They put a gag order on the family but they can’t put a gag order on us,” Mason added.
Linda and Lou Pelletier have been fighting for custody of their daughter since Feb. 14, 2013, when they were accused of medical child abuse and lost custody of her to DCF. At the root of the case is a disagreement about medical diagnoses. The Pelletiers had been treating Justina for mitochondrial disease, which a doctor at Tufts Medical Center diagnosed her with several years ago. Last February, doctors at a Connecticut hospital suggested the Pelletiers bring Justina to Boston Children’s to see a gastrointestinal specialist, who had recently transferred from Tufts, when she was experiencing complications from the flu.
At Boston Children’s however, the family said they were not seen by a gastrointestinal doctor but by physicians who ended up disagreeing with the mitochondrial disease diagnosis. The doctors at Boston Children’s said Justina had somatoform disorder, a psychiatric disorder that says the cause of her symptoms are in her head.
The Pelletiers have been trying to regain custody and medical care of their daughter ever since. Boston Children’s Hospital and the Department of Children and Families have each declined to comment on the case.
Earlier this week, Suffolk County Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Johnson ordered that Justina be moved to a foster care facility from the Framingham, Mass., establishment where she had been in the weeks prior. On Wednesday however, the foster care facility said it would not take Justina, and sources close to the family said the judge “expressed openness,” as the Boston Globe reported, to allowing Justina to move back into her parents’ care if certain stipulations are met.
Mason with Personhood USA, in addition to the calling initiative, is helping organize a peaceful prayer vigil outside of Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, where Justina has lived for the last few weeks, and will be lobbying for a resolution that will be introduced into the state legislature next week.
Here is a look at some of the resolution’s text:
WHEREAS, for the last twelve months Justina Pelletier has been in the care of the Department of Children and Families and her medical condition has deteriorated, and;
WHEREAS, the Department of Children and Families has a stated goal of strengthening the link between families, and government removing children from their parents should occur only in extreme cases where malicious intent, neglect, or the blatant inability to care for the child is present, and;
WHEREAS, there has been no finding of malicious intent or blatant inability of the Pelletiers to care for their daughter Justina, and;
WHEREAS, the Massachusetts House of Representatives has serious concerns about the removal of Justina Pelletier from the custody of her family and concerns over the process that led to the breaking up of this family; THEREFORE, BE IT
RESOLVED, the members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives strongly encourage the Department of Children and Families to immediately release Justina Pelletier from their custody and reunite her with her parents
“We do expect it to pass,” Mason said. “All top lawmakers should be involved and should be speaking out on the issue.”
On Thursday, Massachusetts state Rep. Jim Lyons told TheBlaze Radio’s Jay Severin that the Department of Children and Families was “intruding on parental rights.”
“We have an agency, DCF, a bureaucracy that’s going beyond [the] scope that they’re allowed to advocate in,” Lyons said. “They’re intruding into parental rights. [We] have a Democratic governor who doesn’t want to get involved, who’s under all kinds of – one scandal after another scandal. You have an attorney general who’s part of the Democratic leadership … They’re protecting the system that they have control over.”
Mason said the hope of the resolution is to not only “free Justina” but to launch reform of the system as a whole.
There is also a petition that Mason said on Thursday was signed by more than 4,000 people.
The family’s next hearing in court is March 17.