Justina Pelletier, the Connecticut teen taken from her family more than a year ago by Massachusetts officials after her parents took her to a hospital for help, made a tearful plea to the Bay State family court judge who holds her fate in his hands.
In the 45-second, videotaped plea, first posted on a Facebook page set up by supporters of the 15-year-old, Justina is seen sitting in a chair and pleading plaintively with Massachusetts juvenile court Judge Joseph Johnston.
"All I really want is to be with my family and friends," the girl says, her voice faltering at times. "You can do it. You're the one that's judging this. Please let me go home."
Justina also directs her plea to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, whose state Department of Children and Families made the initial decision to commit the girl to state care on Valentine’s Day 2013 after doctors at Tufts Medical Center, which had been treating her for a rare condition, and doctors as Boston Children’s Hospital clashed over the cause of her medical problems, which included difficulty eating and walking.
Justina was moved last month from the Bay State to a facility in Thompson, Conn. Her family is now somewhat closer to her, but still angry that their daughter can't come home.
At Tufts, Justina had been treated for mitochondrial disease, a group of rare genetic disorders affecting cellular energy production. When Justina began experiencing some gastrointestinal problems, the Tufts doctor treating her, Dr. Mark Korson, wanted the girl to visit Dr. Alejandro Flores at Boston Children's Hospital, according to the family's attorney, Phil Moran. Flores had treated Justina in the past, Moran said, and Korson thought it beneficial for the teen to see a gastroenterologist.
Justina was taken by ambulance to Boston Children's Hospital because she was in a wheelchair at the time and a heavy snowstorm was blanketing the region. To her family's surprise, she was diagnosed with somatoform disorder -- a mental condition in which a patient experiences symptoms that are real but have no physical or biological explanation.
The Pelletier family rejected the new psychiatric diagnosis and wanted to bring Justina back to Tufts. After tempers flared between the Pelletiers and staff at Boston Children's, the hospital notified the state that it suspected the parents of medical child abuse.
The girl was kept at Boston Children’s psychiatric ward for nearly a year before being moved to the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network facility in Framingham, Mass.
In March, Johnston issued a four-page ruling blasting Pelletier’s parents for being verbally abusive and complicating efforts to bring the family together. The Pelletiers, meanwhile, have claimed the Bay State bureaucracy has been aligned against the family from the beginning.
Pelletier has claimed Johnson ignored the testimony of his daughter's original doctors, who stand by the diagnosis of mitochondrial disease. Since the ordeal began, more than a year ago, the Pelletiers have only been allowed hourly visits each week with their daughter, whose condition, they say, has deteriorated. She has not attended school or church since the family lost custody of her, he said.
Last week, attorneys from Liberty Counsel, which represents the Pelletier family, filed a motion with Johnston requesting that Justina be returned to her home. The Massachusetts agency indicated that it will not object to the motion, according to Liberty attorneys.
“Today is a significant event for Justina and the Pelletier family,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “We believe and hope that the Pelletier family will soon be reunited,” said Staver.
“After nearly 16 months of separation, Justina requires much healing - physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” said Staver. “The completion of the Plan is a very positive development and brings us almost full circle to where this process started, before DCF took custody of Justina: Tufts Medical Center is finally providing Justina’s healthcare once more,” said Staver.