There were scenes of outrage outside a Boston courthouse on Monday after a judge ruled that critically ill Justina Pelletier be placed in foster care for the next three weeks, until her next custody court hearing on March 17. Her mother, Linda Pelletier, collapsed and was carried away on a stretcher, while her father, Lou Pelletier, yelled and cried in dismay.
On the scene, Fox television reporter, Beau Berman, tweeted events as the story unfolded, and Christian right-wing campaigner, Rev. Patrick Mahoney briefed the media on behalf of the family. He said a new campaign called “Free Justina” would engage millions of people of faith and goodwill in a bid to have the critically ill teenager returned to the custody of her parents.
Several years ago Justina Pelletier, 15, was diagnosed with the very rare mitochondrial disease, which, like myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has no clear medical explanation. She was treated at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, a top U.S. medical facility and, according to her father, was making good progress. She had surgery and was taking medication, but was living a normal life, going to school and participating in figure skating shows.
Early February of last year, Justina got flu and was admitted (by her parents) to the Boston Children’s Hospital to be treated by the gastroenterologist who had attended her for years, but had switched to Boston from Tufts. Three days later, without consultation with the gastroenterologist, or doctors at Tufts, she was re-diagnosed by the hospital as having somatoform disorder, a mental condition related to anxiety and stress. When the Pelletiers refused to sign an acknowledgement of the new diagnosis, they were told they could no longer make decisions about their daughter and would be charged with medical child abuse.
A judge ruled that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families were now custodians of Justina, who was placed under psychiatric care at the hospital. Contact with her parents was severely limited, and they have been fighting for custody of their daughter ever since. In a January hearing, it was agreed that Justina be released from the Boston hospital and moved to the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network in Massachusetts.
Just before the court case on Monday, Lou Pelletier told media at the courthouse that they were optimistic about the outcome of the custody hearing. It is understood that Mat Staver, of Liberty Counsel and the National Center for Life, and Liberty’s David Gibbs flew to Boston to be at the hearing. They were not permitted to participate, or even be present in the courtroom, as the judge did not immediately grant a motion for them to represent the Pelletier family. Journalists were not allowed into court and were forced to leave the courthouse hallway. The Pelletiers were in court.
As Lou Pelletier left the courtroom, Beau Berman tweeted that he was screaming and “seemed angry.” He had his hand over his face and was with his daughter Jessica who has also been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease. He said Linda Pelletier, who is 56 and diabetic, was lying on the ground “crying and yelling” and paramedics were attending to her. She was wheeled away on a stretcher.
A second case relating to a gag order applied to the Justina Pelletier case in November of last year prohibits anyone from discussing the case with the media. Protestors at court held signs that said “you can’t gag America,” adding to the outrage as she was placed in foster care.
Defying the order, Lou Pelletier agreed to be interviewed by Megyn Kelly on Fox News last week Thursday. He said his daughter had been tortured physically and medically and claimed that all her medications had been ignored. He said she was “at breaking point” and he could not “stand back any more and allow this to happen.” Pelletier said Justina was now paralyzed below the hips and “in pain 24 hours a day.” Every time he sees her, his “knees buckle” and he cries, he said.
Until December 2012, his daughter had been “living the normal American dream.” They sent her to Boston Children’s Hospital last February after she got the flu, which “hit her” because of her medical condition. Since the hospital changed the diagnosis from mitochondrial disease to somatoform disorder (which means they believe it is “all in her head,”) all medication including a daily vitamin cocktail had been withheld and “so she is just rotting,” he said.
He claimed that the new diagnosis was done without consultation with Justina’s doctors, and “without looking at medical records.” Somatoform takes months and years to diagnose, he said, yet the hospital doctors “came up with the diagnosis” within three days and “wanted us to sign” the diagnosis. When the Pelletiers refused to sign, they were told that they were no longer allowed to talk to any other doctors and that there would be no “diagnosing going on.”
Lou Pelletier will appear in court on March 24, on charges of contempt relating to the gag order. But as he said in the interview, he is not worried about the consequences of speaking out. He is only concerned about “saving my daughter’s life.”
According to Staver, who spoke out after Monday’s court hearing, and the general outrage that followed the ruling that Justina Pelletier will be placed in foster care for the time being, the family is still hopeful that she will ultimately be returned into their custody and care. “They’re just kind of at their wit’s end,” he said.
By Penny Swift