Over a year ago, Justina Pelletier entered Boston Children’s Hospital and never left. The staff at Boston Children’s said she had been misdiagnosed for a neuromuscular disease by her original doctors at Tufts Medical Center and that she actually has Somatoform Disorder, a psychological illness where she imagines that she is in pain.
Since then, Justina has been living at Boston Children’s under the custody of the state. Her family, who have accused doctors for treating her like a “guinea pig for medical experiments,” have been battling both the state and hospital for their right to bring their daughter home. On Tuesday, a ruling diminished much of the hope they had by granting the state permanent custody of 15-year-old Justina:
The ruling by Judge Joseph Johnston means the 15-year-old will probably stay in state custody until her 18th birthday unless her parents can prove they are fit to care for their child.
The judge’s four-page decision, which was provided to the Globe, was remarkable for its detail and forcefulness. Johnston faulted Connecticut’s child protection agency for its failure to get involved in a case involving a child from its state, and faulted Pelletier’s parents for their verbally abusive manner and haphazard decision-making that he says has sabotaged plans to move their daughter closer to home.
Johnston wrote that the parents called Boston Children’s Hospital personnel Nazis “and claimed the hospital was punishing and killing Justina. Efforts by hospital clinicians to work with the parents were futile and never went anywhere.”
Her parents, who were visibly distraught by the ruling, will be allowed to present new information proving they are adequate caregivers every six months, at which time the judge may reconsider Justina’s custody or visitation rights. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families says it will continue treating Justina for Somotaform Disorder and will work on finding a way to relocate her to a facility in her home state of Connecticut.
As can be imagined, this stirring case has sparked people around the country to call for Justina’s freedom from state custody. Massachusetts lawmakers have protested the forced separation of Justina from her family, stating that there is no logical reason for it.
It is hard to understand why a hospital would be fight so hard to keep a child away from parents who have not been accused of neglect or abuse. And it doesn’t make sense that, since Justina was diagnosed differently by two top hospitals, her parents have not been allowed to take her to another hospital for an objective opinion.
Regardless of who is right in this terrible saga, a young girl has unnecessarily spent the past year alone in a hospital’s psychiatric ward rather than with a loving family, and that should be worrisome to all involved.