A Connecticut teenager was taken from her family and placed in a psychiatric ward and a residential care home because of a dispute over medical care, and her father is now speaking out.
Linda and Lou Pelletier claim they lost custody of their daughter because doctors at two different Boston hospitals disagreed over her care.
The Pelletiers thought they were helping Justina, 15, when they had her transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital for treatment of mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic problem. Instead of treating Justina, doctors decided she was being “medically abused” and had previously been misdiagnosed, and they moved to take her from her parents. Further, they said Julia did not need all the medicine she had been taking, and the family could not get a second opinion.
Lou Pelletier said he called 911 after he realized that doctors were about to seize his daughter and turn her over to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families in February 2013.
“I told them ‘my daughter is about to be kidnapped by Boston Children’s Hospital,’” Pelletier told The Blaze. He defied a judge’s gag order in speaking out, but said it is something he had to do.
“I need to save my daughter. It’s not this court house. It’s not the state of Massachusetts,” he said. “If we don’t do something, she is going to die.”
The only contacts the Pelletiers have had with their daughter since that day at the hospital are 20 minute phone calls and one hour visits on Fridays. Instead of treatment for the disease, Justina is undergoing “behavior modification.”
Parents Escorted Out By Police
Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital decided Justina didn’t have mitochondrial disease even though she had been diagnosed with the disorder by physicians at Tufts Medical Center, another prominent Boston hospital. Instead they decided Justina’s condition was mental and placed her in a locked psychiatric ward.
To add insult to injury, the hospital had police officers escort Linda and Lou out of the hospital. Justina wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to her parents, but she could see police taking them away.
Boston Children’s accused the Pelletiers of “medical child abuse” or overmedicating their daughter. Documents obtained by Globe reporters show that physicians were performing what they called a “parentecomy,” the removal of a child from a family. Justina, who is still in state custody, has been transferred to a care home in Massachusetts even though she is not a resident of that state.
In another odd twist, Justina will be placed under the care of Dr. Mark Korson, the physician who was treating her at Tufts Medical Center. Korson is a specialist in metabolic disorders such as mitochondrial disease.
Korson told The Globe that there is no medical evidence to justify the diagnosis at Boston Children’s. Korson wasn’t allowed to visit Justina at Children’s Hospital or examine her for three months.
“It is a clinical hunch, a best guess,” Korson said of the diagnosis used to put Justina in the psychiatric ward.
Justina Pelletier’s fate is now in the hands of the courts. She’s legally in custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) but she could be transferred to state authorities in Connecticut. Details of the case have been hard to get because of a “gag order” imposed by a juvenile court judge.
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Justina was recently transferred to the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network in Framingham, Massachusetts. That organization is described as a residential treatment facility.
Not The Only Case
The most disturbing thing about Justina Pelletier is that there are other cases like it. The Boston Globe discovered at least four other cases in which Boston Children’s Hospital and state authorities tried to take or took children from parents. They included:
- A 5-year-old girl, also previously treated by mitochondrial disorder, whose mother was escorted out of the hospital by security. The state then took custody of the girl, and her fate is unknown.
- A 16-year-old girl who was held in Boston Children’s psychiatric ward for seven months after parents lost custody. The girl was suffering from an autoimmune disease. Her ultimate fate is also unknown.
- Gabriel Hilliard, a boy diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, whose parents got him out of Boston Children’s after state investigators disagreed with the hospital. Gabriel’s mother, Jessica, alleged that Children’s encouraged social workers to try and take her son.
The hospital then tried to influence doctors at the news hospital, Jessica Gabriel said.
“The fact that Children’s has so much power that they can get us in trouble with a totally different hospital across the city is appalling,” Jessica Hilliard told The Boston Globe.
Dr. Eli Newberger, a former staff member at Boston Children’s, called medical child abuse a new specialty. He also said that social services agencies usually side with hospitals against parents.
“Doctors in this new specialty have enormous and really unchecked power,” Newberger said.