BOSTON — While many were celebrating St. Patrick's Day in the city of Boston, about 50 people gathered in below freezing temperatures to rally support for the family of a Connecticut teenager they believe was wrongly taken from her parents' custody after a disagreement over medical care.
Monday's rally and prayer vigil outside the Suffolk County Juvenile Court came before another hearing in the case of Justina Pelletier, a 15-year-old from West Hartford, Conn., removed from her parents' custody 13 months ago in a case of alleged medical child abuse.
Pelletier family supporters gathered with signs outsid the Boston courthouse before a hearing got underway, Monday, March 17, 2014. (Photo credit: Liz Klimas/TheBlaze)
Pelletier family spokesman Rev. Patrick Mahoney, state representatives Mark Lombardo and Jim Lyons, and advocacy group representatives spoke outside the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse.
"This is not a partisan issue," Mahoney told the crowd. "This is an issue of justice. … Today we ask that Justina Pelletier be returned back to the loving arms of her family."
“What is happening in Massachusetts... should alarm every parent in America,” state Rep. Lyons said.
Lyons went on to talk about hearing Lou Pelletier recount the situation involving his daughter in front of other state representatives last week.
“What this father went through, no one should have to go through in the United States of America,” Lyons said.
Lou Pelletier, Justina's father, and one of his older daughters made an appearance at the end of the rally. Lou Pelletier spoke briefly to the media, saying he and his family were David fighting Goliath in the case. "Please pray for the judge to have wisdom," he said.
Lou Pelletier, Justina's father, spoke briefly before the hearing outside the Boston courthouse, Monday, March 17, 2014. (Photo credit: Liz Klimas/TheBlaze)
Roseanne McMenemy told TheBlaze this is the third rally she has attended to support the family.
"I felt it was just so unjust how they have turned the situation around to make the parents look like the villains," she said.
Lou and Linda Pelletier had been treating their daughter for symptoms that they believe are the result of mitochondrial disease, which was diagnosed by a doctor at Tufts Medical Center several years ago. Last February, due to complications with the flu, Connecticut doctors recommended the Pelletiers take Justina to Boston Children's Hospital to see a gastrointestinal specialist. Once there, however, doctors there said Justina had somatoform disorder instead, which would put the root of her symptoms as psychological.
When the Pelletiers disagreed with Boston Children's Hospital's medical plan to remove Justina's treatments for mitochondrial disease and tried to have her discharged to Tufts Medical Center instead, they were met with resistance. Last month, Lou Pelletier recalled to TheBlaze how he called 911 and told Boston police, "my daughter is about to be kidnapped by Boston Children’s Hospital."
Justina Pelletier, pictured here at 13 years old is now 15. For more than a year, she has been out of her parents' custody after they disagreed with a medical diagnosis and doctors recommended care at Boston Children's Hospital. (Image source: Facebook)
On Feb. 14, 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families took custody of Justina Pelletier, something which the Pelltiers have been fighting ever since. In January, Judge Joseph Johnston ruled that Justina be released from Boston Children's Hospital to another non-medical facility in Framingham, Mass.
Late last month, Johnston initially ruled that she be transferred to a foster facility, but after that facility wouldn't take her, Justina remained at the Framingham facility.
“Our primary goal has always been the health and well-being of Justina,” DCF spokesman Alec Loftus said in an emailed statement Feb. 28. “We want the parents to be able to work with the providers and courts to ultimately move Justina back to her home state of Connecticut. That is the objective, and is consistent with our previous efforts to find an appropriate placement near her home. A medical team has been identified at Tufts, the family’s provider of choice, with the clinical expertise to care for Justina.”
As the case gained attention in the last months of 2013 and into 2014, small groups would gather outside the courthouse during hearings, asking for Justina's release.
“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,” Melissa Kerins, who has organized these protests outside the courthouse, told TheBlaze ahead of the previous Feb. 24 hearing.
In February, lawmakers from Massachusetts joined in, asking that the teen be released back into the care of her parents. Lawmakers appeared at a vigil held on March 1 outside the Framingham, Mass., facility where Justina has been for the last couple months. The Pelletiers will appear in court Monday afternoon.
Given that Justina's medical care has been transferred to Tufts Medical Center, something her parents were pushing for, it is expected that this case could decide Justina's custody. It is the parents' hope that they will regain custody of their daughter, but advocates for the family have said discussions on the DCF's part have included transferring care to the agency in her home state.
Connecticut state Sen. Joe Markley and at least a dozen other lawmakers signed a letter to Connecticut DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, asking that the agency not involve itself in the case or, if custody is transferred to it, that the agency not create another lengthy bureaucratic process.
“In the face of legal opposition and media scrutiny, it now appears that Massachusetts DCF wants to back away from this case and restore Justina to the custody of her parents,” the letter penned by Sen. Markley said. “We see no reason for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families to involve itself in a case which has been so thoroughly examined to so little effect. This distressing story should end with Justina at home in the care of her parents, and we hope you will not delay that resolution.”
Though it was agreed that Justina’s medical care would be transferred to Tufts Medical Center, which is where a doctor originally diagnosed her with mitochondrial disease, Rev. Mahoney said that she has not yet been seen by any physicians at Tufts.
On Saturday, Justina was also taken to the emergency room with concerning marks on her stomach, which her parents saw during their weekly visit Friday and feared it was an infection.
Ahead of the rally, Mahoney told TheBlaze that this marks an important point in the case.
“It was the Pelletiers who said Justina should go to the emergency room,” he said, noting that it wasn’t called up by DCF or the workers at the Framingham, Mass., facility where she has been for the last couple months. “It goes right to the heart of the argument: parents know best.”