The Christian Defense Coalition’s Rev. Patrick Mahoney may be one step closer to getting desperately ill Connecticut teenager, Justina Pelletier home. Within hours of confronting Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on the street on Thursday, Mahoney was given an appointment to see John Polanowicz, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). They met for 70 minutes, and soon after, Mahoney said he was hopeful his proposal to return Justina to her parents with “conditional custody” would be accepted.
But the passionate Christian campaigner was not resting on his laurels, and has asked supporters to take stuffed animal toys to the Massachusetts Statehouse on Tuesday April 29, at midday, in a stand for solidarity with Justina. “Justina loves stuffed animals and we want to put 436 on the Statehouse steps, which represents the number of days she has been away from her family,” Mahoney said. Without elaborating, he also said that legislation would be debated next week that might enable the teenager to be sent home.
Justina Pelletier was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease several years ago, and was being treated successfully by doctors at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Videos that have been widely distributed on the Internet show her happily ice skating in December 2012. Unfortunately in February the following year, she caught the flu, and because of her illness she displayed symptoms that were much more severe than those that normally healthy people with flu suffer from, including serious digestive problems. As a result, her parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier, took her to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) where a gastroenterologist who had been treating her at Tufts was working. However, Justina did not get to see the specialist, and was re-diagnosed by a newly qualified neurologist, a psychologist, and a pediatrician, as having somatoform disorder – a psychological condition with physical symptoms.
The Pelletiers were dumbstruck when told that their daughter would be taken off the medication prescribed at Tufts, and when they refused to sign consent forms, found themselves being stripped of custody of their child. They also found themselves accused of “medical child abuse,” which has never been investigated or proven. According to her family and to Mahoney, while the custody battle continues, Justina is being forced to live in a facility that not only withholds her medication, but also offers her no education. Her family is only permitted to see her once a week, and she is not allowed to go to church – not even during Easter last weekend. Lou Pelletier stated publicly last week that his daughter was dying.
Rev. Mahoney, the official family spokesperson for the Pelletiers, has been fighting for months to help free Justina Pelletier from the custodial care of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). When he challenged Gov. Patrick publicly on Thursday, the Governor insisted that he did not have the power to send Justina home. “The court has jurisdiction in this matter, not us,” he said. So while Mahoney may be one step closer to getting the teenager home, it is not clear whether the move will need to be sanctioned by the court.
Judge Joseph F. Johnston awarded emergency custody to the Massachusetts DCF in February last year, after BCH accused the Pelletiers of medical child abuse, stating that the treatments (medication and surgery prescribed and performed by the Tufts doctors) were unnecessary. They have continued to fight for custody, but Judge Johnston refuses to change his mind. At one point, the judge even smacked a verbal gag order on Lou Pelletier to prevent him from talking to the media. This was eventually dropped.
In December last year, Judge Johnstone stated in court that there was convincing evidence Justina needed “care and protection” because of her parents inability to care for her and because of their conduct. While there has been no public evidence of misdoing on the part of the Pelletiers, he repeated this finding in March this year when he ruled that custody of Justina should remain with the Massachusetts DCF. However, central to his ruling was an attempt to get the Connecticut DCF and the court in Connecticut to take responsibility for the case – which, so far, both have refused to do. He also made a ruling that Lou and Linda Pelletier should be evaluated psychologically and clinically by the CT DCF, even though he acknowledged that they (the DCF) had refused to have anything to do with the case.
Yesterday Mahoney said that he “shared at length” the many “civil rights violations against Justina” with Polanowicz. He then offered the conditional custody proposal, which both the Pelletiers and Justina’s attorney, who was appointed by the State of Massachusetts, had previously agreed to. He said they were now “waiting for their response” and urged everyone “to pray and work with even greater passion.”
In the meantime, Polanowicz released a statement on behalf of the HHS stating that it was in Justina’s best interests to be returned to Connecticut where she can be close to her family, friends, and school community. He also stated that the Massachusetts DCF had been working with the State of Connecticut and “providers” to “develop a reunification plan” that would help the Pelletier family.
Ironically, one of the issues that Mahoney tried to hammer home on Thursday while talking to Gov. Patrick was a reunification plan. Arguing that Justina has not had any education or been allowed access to a church or minister for 14 months, he added that nobody had been shown a reunification plan, not even the parents.
In the statement Polanowicz also maintained that Justina has “received treatment” and “tutoring,” that she has “made friends,” and has attended community events, including an outing recently where she saw the Blue Man Group. He claimed that they had enabled her to “observe religious services” and “spend time with her family on Easter.” This is in direct contradiction with all reports from the family and supporters who attended a “special celebration of Easter” on Easter Sunday outside the Wayside facility where she is living, with Mahoney and the Pelletier family because they were unable to spend time with their daughter.
Polanowicz repeated what he told Mahoney on Thursday, that the DCF does not have “the authority to determine when and if custody should be returned to Justina’s parents.” Because this is a case of “alleged abuse or neglect” only the court can decide – and the court (Judge Johnstone) has ruled that Justina must remain in the custody of the DCF.
The last paragraph of the statement is what probably makes Rev. Mahoney believe he may be one step closer to getting Justina Pelletier home. It states that the DCF “is ready to work with the family around reunification planning,” and hopes that the Pelletiers will “fully engage in this process.”
“We have taken numerous steps to achieve our shared goal of Justina ultimately returning home — and we will stay focused on achieving this result.”
– John Polanowicz
By Penny Swift