There was widespread dismay as Judge Joseph Johnston failed to deliver his ruling in the Justina Pelletier custody case in Boston yesterday. He postponed the case and said he would give a ruling “by Friday.” Meanwhile the celebrated Dr. Phil announced that he had called the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) on several occasions to discuss the case with them, but they had not returned any of his calls. While this authority ignores Dr. Phil, Justina remains at the Massachusetts Wayside Youth and Family Support Network where she has been since January. This is in spite of a DCF undertaking made nearly three weeks ago that she would be treated by a medical team at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, which is where her family wants her to be.
The judge will also rule later this week on whether Mathew Staver, the Dean of Liberty University School of Law, and founder and chairman of Liberty Council, an international nonprofit organization, is permitted to be the Pelletier’s official lawyer. Staver was appointed late February after a billionaire benefactor came forward on the Glenn Beck radio show with a sponsorship to ensure that Justina gets the best possible legal representation. The DCF is opposing the request.
Justina, who was diagnosed with the rare mitochondrial disease (mito) by doctors at Tufts several years ago, was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) in February 2013 at the age of 14. Vibrant, happy and a keen ice skater, she had contracted influenza, and because of her illness, was more adversely affected than other healthy people. Doctors at BCH declared that the Tufts diagnosis was incorrect and said she had somatoform disorder, which is psychological rather than physical. When her parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier refused to accept the new diagnosis, the DCF obtained a court order giving them custody of Justina Pelletier. The family has been fighting to regain custody ever since, and the Justina Pelletier custody case has increasingly made headline news.
Additionally, an increasing number of people have joined the struggle to have Justina, who is from Connecticut, returned to the care of her parents. There have been rallies and vigils, and even a TweetStorm on Monday evening that had a reach of 4,717,900 and 13,485,341 impacts. But in spite of this overwhelming support, she remains at Wayside in the custody of the Massachusetts DCF.
A crowd rallied outside the court yesterday carrying banners calling for the release from DCF custody of the Connecticut teenager. There was also a prayer vigil outside the court while the session was in progress. Several people addressed the crowd, including Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition who said this was not “a partisan issue” but “an issue of justice.” State representative Jim Lyons, one of several lawmakers who tried unsuccessfully to force the House of Representatives to get involved in the case, said what was happening “should alarm every parent in America.”
The Pelletiers in the Dr. Phil Show
Yesterday the Dr. Phil show featuring Lou Pelletier and two of Justina’s three sisters, Jennifer and Jessica (who also suffers from mito) was broadcast throughout the US. Titled The Fight over Justina: Medical Child Abuse by Parents or Abuse of Power by a Hospital? it also featured several medical specialists, a family law attorney, and Rev. Mahoney.
In pre-recorded snippets, Jessica explained that mito is “100 percent real,” and that it affects every part of the body. She said it made her extremely angry to hear doctors from BCH claiming it is a “non-existent” condition. Because of this belief Justina has been taken off her Tufts’ medication for mito, and consequently, said Jessica, “she looks horrible.”
“My sister is deteriorating before my eyes,” said Julia, adding that she was losing her hair due to stress. She also claimed that Justina had been “put into a walking harness device to force her to walk.”
This entire situation is beyond criminal.
Dr. Phil asked Jessica and Jennifer, who are both adults who now live on their own, if they believed their parents were “a danger” to their sister. Both women responded.
None whatsoever. I come from a loving family. This is just crazy.
They’re tearing our family apart. I don’t understand how this is still going on. It’s disgusting. This needs to stop.
Both sisters want to get Justina home so the family can get her the treatment she desperately needs. “Before we took her (to BCH) she was in ice skating shows. Now she is paralyzed and can’t even stand up,” said Jessica.
Dr. Phil then asked Dr. Charles Sophy, the Medical Director for the County of Los Angeles DCF, who is also a Dr. Phil Advisory Board member, under what circumstances parents should not dictate medical care. If they were “using their power,” he said, though in this case there was no evidence of any malpractice. Typically the DCF would step in if they believed the child was in danger either in terms of “a real safety risk” or suspicions that were significant enough to allow the DCF to hold the child for 72 hours while an investigation was carried out, Dr. Sophy said.
Dr. Sophy then asked Lou Pelletier if the Massachusetts DCF had ever interviewed the family, to which Pelletier replied that no-one had never been to the house and that they had never been interviewed, even telephonically. He also said that the Tufts doctors were doing as much as possible to help, but because they were hospital employees, they had been “blocked out.” There would also have been dismay on their side when the Justina Pelletier custody case was postponed following reports that the Massachusetts DCF ignores Dr. Phil and his efforts to intervene.
Why Mitochondrial Disease is Difficult to Diagnose
Dr. Travis Stork, an ER physician and co-host of The Doctor, explained why mito is such a difficult disease to diagnose. Mitochondria, he said, “really are the power-plant of every cell in your body except for your red blood cells.” So all the food one eats, and all the oxygen one breathes in requires the mitochondria to make the energy the cells need. Mitochondria are present in every major organ and so can affect virtually every system in your body, he said. This is why “it is so confusing and why there can be disagreement amongst medical experts.”
Dr. Phil then asked Lou Pelletier to confirm that after the family had issued a writ of habeas corpus against the DCF last summer, the psychologist at BCH testified in court that Justina had somatoform disorder, while a neurologist at the hospital claimed it was conversion disorder. “So they are disagreeing with themselves!” He also wanted to know if the psychologist was doing any sort of research program on somatoform disorder.
Lou Pelletier’s response was that there are four papers on somatoform she has authored that they know about, including one that says “50 percent of all pediatric patients have somatoform.”
The Fight to Reunite Justina Pelletier with her Family
Dr. Mahoney, who went to Los Angeles with the Pelletiers to record the show, told Dr. Phil that the family had been “living a nightmare” since Justina was “ripped from them.” He said they had their child taken from them “because they were following what the doctors told them to do,” a situation he has never heard of before. She must be reunited with her family “now,” he said.
“It is easy for us to believe that the parents did something wrong. The alternative is that the government moved in with impunity in front of everyone and removed the child from a loving home. But that’s exactly what happened.”
Dr. Phil said it was good public policy for children to remain with their biological parents, but it was true that there are “pathological family units.” For this reason, when it comes to any form of “child abuse” one has a “false positive situation,” he said. “Instead of innocent proven guilty, you have to assume something is wrong until you prove it isn’t in this situation.”
He went on to speculate that the hospital would assume “these parents” were keeping their daughter sick by rewarding her for “sick behavior,” taking her to doctors and literally “cutting her up” by enabling her to have surgeries. However, even if one was to assume the hospital was correct, said Dr. Phil, there should be an investigation – “a finding of fact and a finding of law.”
Dr. Sophy confirmed that the hospital would have to interview the parents and previous doctors to make sure that the person who undertook the 25-minute interview that led to a new diagnosis was in fact correct. They should have called the Connecticut DCF and asked them to do a home investigation said Dr. Sophy, and then undertake any counseling required to bring family back together again.
Areva Martin, a Los Angeles family law attorney who is also a child advocate, told Dr. Phil she believed there was no reason for Justina not to be at home with her family. “This is an example of the system gone wrong,” she said.
Statements Read and Posted by Dr. Phil
Dr. Phil read a statement that was issued by BCH while Justina was still in their care that stated they were “pleased with the progress” she was making. It was issued at a time that her parents were extremely concerned about her deteriorating health. The statement also said that the hospital was distressed that “inaccuracies” about the case had caused undue concern for families who had children with mito, who were in the care of BCH.
He also drew attention to a statement from Wayside that refused to confirm “any information” about people “who may or may not be in our care.”
A third statement from Dr. Dean Hoskanson previously chief psychologist of Connecticut Children’s Hospital who treated Justina from 2006, is posted on the Dr. Phil Show website. He stated that he has always “questioned the diagnosis,” and knew of nowhere in the US where treatment would be “a locked removal” from the family. He personally believed Justina was depressed because she was in pain and was unable to stay in school because of extreme fatigue – even though she desperately wanted to be in school with her friends. His diagnosis was low-grade depression secondary to her physical condition. He also stated that there was “a lot of interest in somatoform at BCH, more than any place that I know.” He had confidence in Dr. Mark Korson’s diagnosis of mitochondrial disease.
It is also clearly stated on the Dr. Phil Show website that the DCF continually ignores Dr. Phil who has “reached out to” them “several times, but they have not returned any calls.” Since it was expected that Judge Johnston would deliver his ruling on the Justina Pelletier custody case yesterday, the dismay felt at the courthouse had a ripple effect as supporters worldwide discovered that the case had been postponed and that it would probably be another four days before a decision was announced by the judge.
By Penny Swift