The ailing teenager at the center of an interstate custody battle is going back under the care of Tufts Medical Center, where she was being treated until another Boston hospital made a different diagnosis and urged child protection officials to take her away from her family.
The development in the case of Justina Pelletier, 15, came at an attorneys-only hearing in Boston, where a contempt of court order against her father was also lifted. Lou Pelletier violated a gag order when he appeared on Fox News Channel's "The Kelly File" last month to decry Massachusetts Department of Children and Families' decision to take his daughter, who is from Connecticut and was only in the Bay State to get medical treatment.
Doctors at Tufts performed surgery on Justina and prescribed medication, all to treat her for a rare condition called Mitochondrial diagnosis. But when Pelletier took his daughter to Boston Children’s Hospital to seek treatment for a negative reaction to the flu last year, doctors determined that her problems were partly psychiatric and that the invasive treatment at Tufts constituted medical abuse. They contacted DCF, which took the girl.
Justina spent the past 13 months detained in two Massachusetts’s facilities against her parents’ wishes. She is currently being held at the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network facility in Framingham, Mass., after spending a year at the Boston Children’s Hospital.
Also at Monday's meeting, lawyers for the Pelletiers sought to have DCF transfer custody of the girl to their counterparts in Connecticut while the family continues to fight for her return. A decision on that issue could come on March 17.
The Pelletiers have allies in the Massachusetts Legislature, where 16 lawmakers drafted a resolution last week in an attempt to strip Justina’s custodial rights from the DCF.
“DCF is an agency in disarray,” said state Rep. Marc Lambardo, the Massachusetts state legislator who authored the resolution. “This is an administration that has been built on a lack of transparency and patronage.”
Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA and advocate for the Pelletier family, said the girl's yearlong saga began when her family sought out top-notch medical care and followed the advice of doctors.
“This is a situation where a young woman’s dignity isn’t being respected and she’s being treated as a piece of property,” Mason said.
The family has received an outpouring of national support after Lou Pelletier exposed the case on national television on Feb. 20. He told Fox News he doesn't regret breaking the gag order.
“DCF and the prosecution are beyond aggravated that I went to the media. But if I hadn’t, no one would know about the injustice that has taken place,” Pelletier said. “If it wasn’t for me breaking the gag order, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Tufts Medical Center diagnosed Justina in January 2012 with Mitochondrial Disease, a rare medical condition that is maternally inherited and caused by genetic mutation, according to Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.
At Tufts, Justina underwent an extensive medical treatment program involving invasive surgery and medication, all related to her Mitochondrial diagnosis. According to Lou Pelletier, Justina’s medical treatment was under the direction of Dr. Mark S. Korson, a respected physician who specialized in metabolic disorders, and all surgical procedures were approved by medical insurance.
But at Boston Children’s Hospital Dr. Jurrian Peters assessed Justina’s symptoms and brought in a psychologist, concluding that her medical problems were brought on by a psychiatric disease called Somatoform Disorder.
Boston Children’s Hospital asked the Pelletiers to sign a form agreeing to cease any further medical treatment in regards to the Mitochondrial Disease. When they objected and demanded to bring Justina back to Tufts where she had been treated for a year, they brought DCF in and stripped them of their custodial rights on grounds of alleged medical abuse.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and the Pelletiers’ attorney, said he was astounded after learning the facts of the case.
“The more I learned, the more I realized there was an issue within the Boston Children’s Hospital, DCF, and the Massachusetts juvenile court system,” Staver said.
Staver said that under DCF care, Justina has been denied education, religious services and adequate medical treatment. Subsequently, he said Justina’s health is failing and she has fallen two grades behind her classmates.
Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of Charity Defense Organizations, took an active role in advancing a national campaign to “Free Justina.”
He led a prayer vigil Saturday outside the Framingham facility, where Justina remains, in the company of family, friends and fellow advocates of Justina’s cause.
“We are experiencing an avalanche of support,” Mahoney said. “We struck a nerve in the hearts of Americans about parental rights and the encroachment of government in the private lives of everyday citizens.”