Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, the newly appointed legal representative of severely ill Connecticut teenager Justina Pelletier, has filed a contempt of court motion against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). This follows the refusal of the DCF to transfer care of Justina to Tufts Medical Center in Boston in spite of approval of the agreement by Judge Joseph F. Johnston on March 3. Even though the “order” was enforceable, the lawyer said, DCF has failed to make appointments with the doctors at Tufts, let alone ensure that Justina is seen by them. His 11th-hour court battle with the DCF was also prompted by the judge’s continued postponement over the past three months of a custody ruling that will decide whether the teenager can be released from the care of the DCF.
Staver has stated that the Florida-based Liberty Counsel is doing all it can to remove the Massachusetts DCF from the Pelletier case. But Judge Johnston has also failed to make a ruling that will allow Staver, who is from another state, to officially represent Justina and the Pelletier family in court. When Staver first appeared in court Feb. 24, the DCF objected. The judge gave the department 48 hours to file its objections in writing, which they did not do. The judge has still not made any ruling verbally or in writing.
Both Staver and Justina’s father, Lou Pelletier, have shown continued concern that in the past year, since the custody battle between the Pelletiers and DCF began, Judge Johnston has not issued any written rulings. He issued a verbal gag order against Mr. Pelletier in early November 2013, which he withdrew March 17 after ongoing media and public pressure. On March 3, the judge verbally approved a written agreement by the DCF that Justina would be transferred to Tufts. But there is nothing on paper, and nothing has happened. Instead, she is still being kept in the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network transitional facility that offers no medical care. This facility is overseen by BCH and the DCF.
Staver, who is fighting to become the official lawyer for Justina Pelletier, instituted his 11th-hour battle with the Massachusetts DCF yesterday. He is demanding that his client be sent to Tufts for medical treatment immediately in accordance with “the court order.”
Meanwhile, in a radio interview with Michael Graham on a local Massachusetts radio station yesterday, Lou Pelletier said his daughter was “dying, medically and psychologically.” He reiterated what his daughter Jennifer said on Friday after visiting her sister, saying that her condition continues to deteriorate. He also confirmed what Jennifer has said about out-of-uniform City of Boston policemen with guns being present during the one-hour weekly visit. The situation, Mr. Pelletier said, has been “taken to a whole new level.” The family is not permitted to discuss Justina’s medical treatment with her, and there are always DCF officials present during the weekly visits and 20-minute telephone calls to ensure that this does not happen.
There are photographs and videos on the Internet that show a happy, smiling Justina ice skating in December 2012. But, says her father, she is now virtually paralyzed from the hip down. She has no strength in her upper body and there are red lines on her stomach, indicating signs of sepsis. Justina is, he told Graham, “paralyzed by neglect.”
Justina Pelletier Admitted to BCH and Held Against Her Parents Will
Prior to being admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) in February 2013, Justina, who is from Connecticut, was being treated by Dr. Mark Korson at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Diagnosed with the rare mitochondrial disease (mito), she was also seeing gastroenterologist Dr. Alejandro Flores, who now works at BCH.
When Justina contracted the flu in February 2013, her parents took her to BCH so she could be seen by Dr. Flores. In the BCH emergency room, she was examined by Dr. Jurriaan Peters, a specialist in neurology who had studied in Holland and who had only recently qualified. She was also seen by Psychologist Dr. Simona Bujoreanu, who was known to have researched and written about somatoform disorder, in which “distress is experienced as physical symptoms.” Without consulting the Tufts doctors, Peters and Bujoreanu informed the Pelletiers that their daughter’s medication prescribed by the doctors at Tufts should be stopped, and instead, she should be given psychological or mental treatment. They were also told they were not allowed to get a second opinion.
Pediatrician Dr. Alice Newton, who was on BCH’s child protection team at the time, was also called in. She contacted Korson, not for medical information or advice, but to advise him that they were investigating the Pelletiers for possible “medical child abuse.”
Korson is on the record for explaining why and how mito cases are so complex to both diagnose and treat. He likens the function of the body’s mitochondria to an electrical grid made up of human cells that generate energy for all the organs in the body. If the “grid” starts to fail, it is like a power drain that affects the organs in many different ways, he explains. Justina’s digestion was severely affected, and exacerbated by the flu, which is why she needed to see a gastroenterologist. Mito patients typically see any number of specialists from cardiologists to ophthalmologists.
At the time, it was reported that as tensions between the hospital and Justina’s parents escalated, they decided to remove her from BCH and take her to Tufts. The hospital in turn filed a 51A report with the Massachusetts DCF, which ultimately gave the DCF custody of the teenager. In April 2013, she was transferred to the BCH locked psychiatric ward, Bader 5, where children in danger of harming themselves or others are treated. Hospital records show that Justina was very upset and demanded to see her lawyer.
Judge Johnston is due to issue a written ruling on the custody issue Tuesday, more than three months since the custody hearings ended on Dec. 12. If it is postponed again, it will be the seventh. But Justina Pelletier’s lawyer is not convinced this will happen, and if it does not, there is no way that she will get the medical attention she so desperately needs to save her life. This is why he has embroiled himself in an 11th-hour battle with the Massachusetts DCF that currently has custody of the very, very ill teenager.
By Penny Swift