Justina Pelletier Returns Home
Connecticut teenager, Justina Pelletier was recently returned to her parent’s home in West Hartford, Connecticut. She was separated from her family for 16 months. This case has caused parents around the country to sit up and pay attention.
In February 2013, Justina had a consultation at the Children’s Hospital, which was intended to complement the care she was the receiving at the Boston’s New England Medical Center (NEMC). Doctors at the NEMC had diagnosed Justina with Mitochondrial Disease. This is a group of disorders caused by dysfunctional mitochondria. It affects energy production inside cells, causing muscle weakness, developmental delays and poor growth, among other symptoms.
The doctors at the Boston Children’s Hospital disagreed with this diagnosis, claiming that Justina was psychiatrically ill and had no actual physical problems. According to their diagnosis, she was in fact suffering from somatoform disorder. This is a condition in which underlying and unresolved psychological issues show up as physical problems.
But whatever the true diagnosis of Justina’s condition, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (which is similar to Michigan’s DHS) agreed with the doctors at the Boston Children’s Hospital. They accused the parents of medical child abuse, claiming that they were hindering Justina’s healing process.
As a result of this, the Pelletiers have been forced to wage a custody battle over their daughter for more than a year. Initially, Suffolk County juvenile court Judge Joseph Johnston gave permanent custody of Justina to the state of Massachusetts. His 4 page ruling accused her parents of medical mismanagement and abuse, deeming them unfit.
A major breakthrough occurred when John Polanowicz, a top health official from the state of Massachusetts, brokered an arrangement in which the DCF retained custody, but Justina was transferred from Massachusetts to JRI Susan Wayne Center for Excellence in Connecticut, which is closer to her parents’ home.
However, the public pressure mounted, resulting in picketing, internet campaigns and even hate mail sent to the DCF social workers, the judge, and a few of Justina’s doctors. Finally, on June 6th, DCF filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Judge Johnston ruled that there was “credible evidence that circumstances have changed” and that Justina’s former doctor, Mark Korson of Tufts Medical Center, may treat her for “persistent and severe somatic symptom disorder.”
The Pelletiers and their advocates feel that political, financial and legal factors played a significant role in the court’s incredibly quick change of opinion. According to a longtime child protection specialist who has been closely following the case, “There was such a turnaround of opinion in such a short span of time!”. All of this has left many people wondering if the court’s decisions were in fact driven by the “best interests of the child”.
Although the Pelletier family has not yet made any decisions regarding legal action, Lou Pelletier did say that “…at some point the people who were part of the abuse and torture of our daughter need to be held accountable. Not just for Justina, but for all people who are put through this.”