A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


March 27, 2014

Why The Justina Pelletier Case Should Concern All Parents

   
     It was the decision that I thought could never be justifiably made.  But earlier this week, Judge Joseph Johnston, the Massachusetts juvenile court judge overseeing the custody battle between the parents of Justina Pelletier and the State of Massachusetts, awarded permanent custody to the state's Department of Children and Families (DCF).
     First of all, Justina is not even a resident of Massachusetts!  Until a year ago, she lived with her parents in Connecticut.  But one fateful night, the teen who suffers from mitochondrial disease, went to the ER at Boston Children's Hospital with flu symptoms and never came home.  The disease is caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, the sub-units within a cell that generate energy for the cell.  Symptoms cover a wide range of disorders, including poor growth, loss of muscle coordination, muscle weakness, visual problems, hearing problems, learning disabilities, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders, neurological problems, autonomic dysfunction and dementia.  Seems like a difficult disease to not only diagnose, but to treat.
     But now it seems that on the word of an ER doctor, unfamiliar with Justina's medical history, a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder called Somatic System Disorder can be made; and charges alleged against the parents for medical abuse can be grounds for Justina to be permanently removed from her family.  This is such a travesty of justice and a very frightening sign of out-of-control power by the State!
    A somatoform disorder is a mental disorder characterized by symptoms that suggest physical illness or injury – and other symptoms include anxiety and depression.  Symptoms are sometimes similar to those of other illnesses and may last for several years.  From what I've read, this is a psychiatric disorder, which means the original doctor at Boston Children's was either ignorant of the physical effects of mitochondrial disease, or did not believe the parents' report of her medical history.  He seems to have determined that she was "a head case".
    Now, Justina will more than likely have to remain in State custody until her 18th birthday while her parents appeal the ruling, and try to prove that they are fit parents.  In addition to the frightening implications of this case, the judge's reasoning for reaching his decision should strike fear in all our hearts.  As The Boston Globe reported, there were four key factors that he cited for taking Justina away from her family.  Here they are, in reverse order:
4.  The judge argues that “credible psychiatric and medical evidence” suggests that Justina Pelletier suffers from a “persistent and severe Somatic Symptom Disorder,” not mitochondrial disease as she was diagnosed with previously.  The facts of the case seem to prove otherwise.  The court heard testimony from four doctors during the hearing; Dr. Mark Korson, of Tufts Medical Center, who is Justina's primary doctor and diagnosed her with mitochondrial disease.  He stood by his diagnosis.  The other three doctors were all psychiatrists; two from Boston Children's and one was a psychiatrist who has been seeing Justina since 2006, and testified that she suffered from depression due to her mitochondrial disease.  The two psychiatrists from Boston Children's Hospital were the original doctor who diagnosed her with Somatic System Disorder, and stuck by his opinion, and a second psychiatrist who disagreed.
     So the only doctor who testified that she didn't have mitochondrial disease was the doctor who made the original claim.  How likely was he to change his story?
3.   Justina’s parents “significantly hampered” DCF’s efforts to find a “suitable placement” for the girl, according to the ruling.  “While Justina was at Children’s Hospital, the parents were verbally abusive to Justina’s hospital providers. Family members of other patients complained that Justina’s parents stated their children were being kidnapped by Children’s Hospital,” the ruling says. “They threatened to call the F.B.I. They called hospital personnel “Nazis” and claimed the hospital was punishing and killing Justina.”  The court also accuses the parents of using “profanity” directed at DCF personnel.  Are you kidding me?  If I took a sick child to the hospital, knowing she had a pre-existing condition, and the hospital misdiagnosed her, took my child away from me and threatened to take custody of her; I'm pretty darn sure that I would heap abuse upon their heads, too!  I would do anything to get her back, and would not be worried about presenting the hospital staff in a good light.
2.  The judge has determined “placement of Justina in the conditional custody of her parents is not in her best interests at this time.”  What is not in Justina's best interests is to rip her away from her family and medically treat her in a manner that has only resulted in a steady decline in her health.  Her parents have stated many times that if they don't get her out of the hands of the State, they fear she will die.
1.  Psychological and clinical evaluations of Justina’s parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier, are “necessary.”  It is horrifying to see how easily the State can cast aspersions on the competence of parents.  Do you really think the Pelletier family is any different than your own?
     According to the family's spokesperson, Rev. Patrick Mahoney, the parents of Justina are being punished for not going along with DCF's analysis of their daughter's medical condition.  “DCF, the courts, and everyone else involved is sending a message,” Mahoney said. That message, he said, is if you question these entities, they’re going to say, “‘Guess what? We’re going to take your child and not give them back to you.’
     Although the Pelletiers can file a motion in court again in May to regain custody, they plan on appealing later this week.  Wouldn't you turn over every stone to find a way to rescue your child from State custody?  This case represents the intrusion of an over-reaching government into our families' lives and, I fear, is just the beginning of relegating parents to a subordinate role.  We must pray that the Pelletiers stay strong and in the fight.  They represent all of us.

Ezekiel 34:4   "The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them."  

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