Judge Delays Justina Pelletier Ruling While Armed Guards Sit in on Visits
Massachusetts Judge Joseph Johnston delayed his promised Justina Pelletier ruling for the sixth time on Friday, stating that he will now issue the ruling on Tuesday March 25, 2014 in a facsimile message. The critically ill teenager’s family has been fighting a custody battle against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) for more than a year. Meanwhile her older sister Jennifer is pleading with friends and campaigners to do all they can to support Justina. Devastated by the delays in getting medication for her sister, she tweeted Friday that armed guards sit in on visits while she is with Justina and that she is increasingly worried about her condition.
The Massachusetts DCF was made custodian of Justina Pelletier more than a year ago after her parents had admitted her to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) with influenza. Diagnosed with mitochondrial disease and previously treated at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, her condition had deteriorated and she needed to see the specialist, a gastroenterologist, who had previously treated her at Tufts (who now works at BCH). Instead a neurologist, a psychologist and a pediatrician who had no knowledge of her medical history, and did not consult the doctors and specialists who had been treating her, decided on a new diagnosis of somatoform disorder that is psychological. When her parents disagreed with the new diagnosis, and refused to sign documentation required by the hospital, the DCF got a court order that deprived the Pelletiers of custody of their child. The family has been fighting to regain custody ever since.
There have been numerous custody hearing since February 2013 when the DCF was first granted legal custody of Justina Pelletier. On December last year award-winning investigative reporter Beau Berman, who has been following the case very closely, reported that even though the custody hearings ended on December 12, Judge Joseph Johnston did not issue a final ruling. At that stage it was reported that the “final decision” would be before Christmas last year, on Friday morning, December 20, after Justina herself had testified in person. In the meantime, on November 7, 2013 Judge Johnston had issued a verbal gag order that prevented anyone from discussing the case with the media. On December 20 he postponed the case and his final Justina Pelletier ruling to February 2014.
On February 4 Judge Johnston again adjourned the case, this time to February 13, at which point Justina was transferred from BCH to Wayside Youth and Family Network in Massachusetts, said to be a “transitional facility.” Then on February 24, 2014 the parties again appeared before Judge Johnston and he postponed his custody ruling yet again. This time he made a decision that Justina should be transferred from Wayside to foster care and the next custody hearing was scheduled for March 17 when it was thought that the final ruling would be given. This was when Justina’s mother Linda collapsed and had to be carried from the court on a stretcher by medical personnel. Ultimately Justina was allowed to stay where she was, rather than go into foster care. As pressure from support groups and the media intensified, the gag order against her father was also lifted. Further, the DCF made a public statement to say that they would be transferring Justina into the care of a medical team from Tufts, which is what the Pelletier family wants.
On March 17 it was once again expected that Judge Johnston would deliver his final ruling, but this did not happen. On March 17, a Monday, the judge said he would deliver his ruling by Friday March 21. On March 21 word was that the judge would be emailing – or possibly even snail-mailing – the Justina Pelletier ruling to the girl’s parents. But on Friday the judge said he would fax his ruling on Tuesday (March 25) – more than three months later than the original “final decision” was promised.
Social Media Used to Get Support for Justina Pelletier
From the start the Pelletier family and their supporters have used social media to get support for Justina. There are several Facebook pages including two groups, Free Justina Pelletier & Oppose DCF/Psychiatry, and Free Justina Pelletier From Boston Children’s Hospital. A Miracle for Justina, a community page set up on March 18, 2013 as a non-profit fund to help get Justina home, has more than 21,000 likes.
Thousands of supporters have also been using Twitter to publicize Justina’s plight, including both Justina’s older sisters, Jennifer and Jessica, who also suffers from the rare mitochondrial disease. On Friday Jennifer tweeted that she was “disgusted with the state of Massachusetts,” and that the DCF was “harming my sister” by “completely neglecting her health!!!” She had been to see Justina and was worried how swollen her feet and legs were. They were, she said, “Very cold to touch! Used to be very ticklish … can’t feel.” She also tweeted that during the visit there were “two armed local cops not in uniform” present, “With guns showing!!” She pleading via Twitter, “Please help support my little sister!”
The Pelletiers are only allowed to spend one hour per week with Justina, and never without representatives of the DCF being present. On Saturday the family posted a statement on the Miracle for Justina Facebook page saying that Wayside clinic has now said Justina will not be allowed to see the Tuft medical team until Judge Johnston makes his custody ruling. Wayside Youth and Support Network is supervised by BCH and by the Massachusetts DCF. The president and CEO of the clinic for the past 30 years is Harvard graduate, Eric L. Masi who is also chair of the Children’s League of Massachusetts and the Association for Behavioral Health. BCH is the pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, and well-known for its research on somatoform disorder.
State of Justina’s Pelletier’s Health
When the doctors at BCH made their diagnosis of somatoform disorder in February 2013, Justina was taken off all the medication prescribed by her doctors at Tufts. Since then, her family has reported a continued decline in her health. They have noticed intense red lines on her stomach and say that her legs and feet are “beyond swollen.” The swelling is so bad that they cannot see her ankles and she has no feeling in her feet. She is paralyzed from waist down and confined to a wheelchair, just over a year after she was competing successfully in ice shows.
While the DCF has accused Lou and Linda Pelletier (Justina’s parents) of child abuse, and allowing her to have medication they say it totally unnecessary (all of which was prescribed by the doctors at Tufts), the Pelletiers have consistently stated that they are only concerned with Justina’s health and welfare. “Our family is extremely worried based on what we witnessed that Justina is in desperate need of a medical examination and care.”
Yesterday evening Beau Berman interviewed Jennifer Pelletier on television, and she repeated what has already been stated on both Facebook and Twitter, adding that she has never seen Justina’s health worse. She said it simply was not fair that the authorities were prolonging the agony. This relates both to the delays caused by the judge who keeps postponing his Justina Pelletier ruling, as well as the DCF undertaking to transfer her medical treatment back to Tufts. Meanwhile the family will continue to visit Justina once a week while DCF representatives and armed guards sit in on visits.
By Penny Swift