The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) has agreed that Justina Pelletier, the desperately ill Connecticut teenager at the center of a custody battle between her parents and the state, may return to Tufts Medical Center in Boston as requested by her parents. The DCF has also announced that it agrees to allow withdrawal of its charge of contempt of court against her father, Lou Pelletier who has broken a verbal court gag order not to speak to the media on several occasions. This action came after an increase in public protests and the involvement of a new team of lawyers funded by an anonymous billionaire earlier this week.
A statement issued late Friday by DCF’s Alec Loftus maintained that the Department’s primary concern was “the health and well-being of Justina.” He said that their objective was to find “an appropriate” facility near to her Connecticut home where she could be treated, and stated that they had identified a medical team at Tufts that had “the clinical expertise to care for Justina.” This is understood to be the first public statement made by the DCF that directly addresses the teenager who was made a custodian of the Department in February last year.
Justina Pelletier, who was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease a few years ago, first hit the media spotlight last year after she had been admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) and was then re-diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, somatoform disorder in February last year. Her parents had taken her to BCH because a gastroenterologist who had treated her at Tufts had been transferred to BCH. But within three days, the teenager’s life was turned upside down. Suffering from a condition BCH medics said was “in her head,” she was declared to be a custodian of the state – and her parents were no longer allowed to have a say in her life.
In recent days there has been a surge of interest in the case, with an anonymous billionaire stepping forward to foot the bill for top lawyers, and a number of campaigners generating rallies, prayer vigils, petitions, and just about anything that will force the authorities to allow Justina Pelletier to return to Tufts Medical Center where she was treated previously. After many of these protests had been initiated it was reported that the DCF now agrees to much of what the campaigners have been demanding. However there is no indication that the teenager will be returned to her parents care unless the judge rules in favor of them regaining custody of their child, at the next court hearing which is set at March 17.
While this appears overall to be good news, the Pelletier family is said to be only “cautiously optimistic” because they have been fighting a custody battle against the DCF for about a year. Lou Pelletier, who has defiantly been interviewed by several high-profile media personalities including Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and radio host Glenn Beck, said he had been thrown so many “carrots” during the past year he has found it difficult to cope with the “dangling” and teasing. It was “the cruelest thing you can do,” he said because the family has been offered “hope” so often.
Ultimately all the Pelletier family wants is for the custody of their teenage daughter to be returned to them. Right now Lou Pelletier is more than a little skeptical, saying that the DCF has “destroyed my daughter.” But this will not stop his fight because he says he is “in it to win it.”
The protests continue, with new lawyers funded by a billionaire benefactor who is so appalled by the case he immediately wrote out a check to ensure the Pelletiers get the best legal team. Several new petitions have been launched and today about 30 people attended a prayer vigil outside the facility where Justina is currently still being held.
According to Justina Pelletier’s new attorney, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, even after the recent protests, he will not stop fighting for his client’s rights until the DCF is no longer involved in the case. While he is aware that the Department agrees to allow the teenager to return to Tufts, he says he is determined that DCF will be “held accountable” for what he has termed “negligent actions.”
By Penny Swift