The father and sisters of Justina Pelletier, the Connecticut teenager who has been held by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) for more than a year, will appear on the Dr. Phil show tomorrow. The interviews coincide with a court hearing during which the Pelletier family will continue their fight to regain custody of the 15-year-old who is desperately ill and confined to a wheelchair. It is thought that Judge Joseph Johnston will make his final custody ruling tomorrow. A rally is also planned for the day of the case, as well as a TweetStorm to spread awareness of her plight tonight.
There was shock and outrage on Feb. 24 when a Boston judge ruled she could be placed in foster care pending tomorrow’s hearing. Justina’s mother collapsed under the strain and had to be removed by medics from the courthouse on a stretcher. The DCF subsequently agreed that Justina could remain at the Massachusetts Wayside Youth and Family Support Network where she has been since January when they released her from the controversial Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). The DCF also announced it was making plans for her to be treated at Boston’s Tufts Medical Center in accordance with her parents’ wishes.
Justina Pelletier was diagnosed with a rare mitochondrial disease by doctors at Tufts several years ago, and had been treated by them until she got the flu last February. She was admitted to BCH where her parents expected she would be seen by a gastroenterologist who had previously treated her at Tufts. Instead a new doctor re-diagnosed her illness as somatoform disorder, which is essentially psychosomatic. When Justina’s parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier refused to acknowledge the diagnosis and sign acceptance of a change of treatment, the DCF went to court and had custody transferred to the state. Her family maintains that her condition has deteriorated dramatically ever since, so much so she is paralyzed from the waist down and is confined to a wheelchair.
The Dr. Phil Interview
Billed as The Fight over Justina: Medical Child Abuse by Parents or Abuse of Power by a Hospital? the Dr. Phil interview was pre-recorded last week with Lou Pelletier and two of Justina’s sisters, Jessica (above left) and Jennifer (right). In the promotional video, Dr. Phil questions that hospitals “don’t just keep a child for no reason,” and goes on to say to the Pelletiers, “they have to be implying you are making her sick.”
In the interview he tries to fathom how what appears on the surface to be “a dispute over a diagnosis” could turn into “a headline-grabbing custody battle.” In addition to discussing the case with the Pelletiers, Dr. Phil also talks to several experts in an endeavor to discover whether the doctors at BCH were justified in what they did or whether it was in fact “an abuse of power.”
Rally Outside the Courthouse
Several high-profile campaigners have recently joined in the fight to have Justina Pelletier returned to her parents immediately, including Rev. Patrick Mahoney who heads the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington. He accompanied the Pelletier family to Los Angeles where the Dr. Phil show was recorded and said on his Facebook page that their message was “clear and simple. Parents know what is best for their children better than government agencies or courts!” Afterwards he spoke out about the interviews saying that the “show was amazing and Dr. Phil was incredible!” He hopes that the show being flighted on the day of the court case will have maximum impact.
Rev. Mahoney has called for supporters to join him outside the Suffolk County Juvenile Court in Boston’s New Chardon Street at 12.30 pm tomorrow to “speak out for justice and human rights.” It is expected that at least 652 people will join the rally and prayer vigil.
TweetStorm to Help Free Justina Pelletier
Those who cannot attend tomorrow’s rally have been asked to participate in a TweetStorm at 6 pm Pacific time, 9 pm Eastern time tonight. Organizers have prepared a number of tweets that can be copied, including a quote by Lou Pelletier: “Bottom line is, my daughter’s life is now at stake” and another by Justine herself: “I feel like a prisoner.” Tweets will be aimed at a number of individuals and institutions including the DFC, BCH and Judge Johnston as well as campaigners.
The urgency is increased by the fact that an effort by several Massachusetts state representatives to have Justina released last week failed.
Massachusetts State Representatives Fail to Get Justina Released
Jim Lyons and Marc Lombardo both Republican state representatives headed a campaign to persuade the Massachusetts House of Representatives to force the DCF to release Justina from state custody. They had 16 Republican and seven Democrat signatures but reportedly lost the battle on Wednesday when Democrat David Linsky sent the matter to a Rules Committee. He said this was standard procedure and argued that there was, in any case, a court case pending.
“I think my record shows that I am no fan of the current DCF but we all have to respect a pending court case,” Linsky said. “The Legislature can’t step in because that would be a violation of the separation of powers.”
Meanwhile Lombardo said it was time Justina was released from DCF custody “where she is dying.” Instead she should be allowed to “go home to her family in Connecticut.”
Judge Joseph Johnston to Decide Justina’s Fate
All eyes and ears will be on the Suffolk County Juvenile Courthouse tomorrow where Judge Johnstone is expected to give his final judgment on the custody battle that has been going on for more than a year.
Campaigners and followers of the case will also be sure to watch as Dr. Phil interviews the family of Justina Pelletier on the day of this important court case that will determine the teenager’s future.
By Penny Swift