Father Could Be Held In Contempt For Speaking Out Against 15-Year-Old’s Year-Long Commitment To Psych Ward
A Massachusetts father defied a gag order to speak out about his 15-year-old daughter who entered the hospital with what seemed like the flu and ended up involuntarily committed to a psych ward without her parents' approval for the last year.
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families filed to have Lou Pelletier held in contempt of court for telling the media about his daughter, who was taken away from him in February 2013.
Justina Pelletier's family believes she has mitochondrial disease, just like her older sister. She was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease – a genetic disorder that affects how cells produce energy – by doctors at Tufts Medical Center.
But when she went to Boston Children’s Hospital on Feb. 10, 2013, a neurologist said Justina is mentally ill. Without reviewing her history, he said her symptoms of mitochondrial disease are psychosomatic.
Her parents were open to new treatment until they learned the hospital wanted to take away all of Justina’s pain medication.
Astounded, her parents attempted to take her back to Tufts for treatment. That’s when Boston Children’s Hospital called the police.
“I have a right as a U.S. citizen to take my daughter to what doctor I want to, and it’s been taken away,” her mother, Linda Pelletier, told Fox.
Now her parents are involved in a legal battle to regain custody of their daughter one year after the DCF took her away on Feb. 14, 2013.
Lou could be slapped with hefty fines if he is found in contempt, but he says he doesn’t care. The family has turned to the court of public opinion to set Justina free.
“I need to save my daughter. It’s not this courthouse. It’s not the state of Massachusetts,” Lou Pelletier told TheBlaze. “If we don’t do something, she is going to die.”
Her family says she is wasting away without treatment for mitochondrial disease. After being treated for somatoform disorder and overmedication for the past year, it is unclear whether her doctors believe Justina is showing improvement.
"Every procedure she had done was not pushed by us, but by the medical community. Insurance never would have covered it if it were not medically necessary,” Lou said.
The Boston Children’s Hospital defends their doctors and staff.
“We are proud of their work and positive impact on the patient," the statement read. “[O]ur clinicians are particularly distressed that the inaccuracies surrounding this case have caused undo concern for the many children and their families with mitochondrial disorders in our care. Misleading reports suggesting that the hospital holds patients in its inpatient psychiatric unit do not recognize the role of DCF as the legal guardian or the challenges inherent in finding appropriate lower acuity facilities for certain patients.”
With a Feb. 24 court date approaching, the father of Justina Pelletier has spoken.
Justina, just 15 years old, has been in the custody of the state of Massachusetts for slightly more than one year now. In February 2013, Justina caught the flu. For people in good health, the flu is typically an easily beaten – even if unpleasant – ailment. But Justina has been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease by Tufts University doctors. Mitochondrial disease can make even the most mundane sickness a legitimate health concern. Because of this, Justina’s parents checked her into Boston Children’s Hospital.
After three days in the hospital, BCH doctors delivered some unexpected news. They told the Pelletiers that Justina’s health problems – both the flu and her mitochondrial disease diagnosis – were not legitimate physical sicknesses. They thought Justina’s problems were psychosomatic and said she needed mental health help.
Shockingly, the Massachusetts accused the Pelletiers of over-medicating their daughter and took custody of her. That was one year ago. In the year since, the Pelletiers have spent time, money, and endless emotional energy fighting to regain custody of Justina.
Justina’s father Lou Pelletier spoke to The Blaze recently about his family’s fight.
“We need help,” he said. “I’m trying to save my daughter’s life.”
The Pelletiers are due back in court on Feb. 24.
“Now we go back the 24th, a week from today, and I want to have all my guns blazing,” Pelletier said. "We’re not going to make it much more."
His daughter Jessica, who is also diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, chimed in, as well.
“Our family, I don’t know how we survived this long,” she said.
The Pelletiers are hoping, as they have for more than a year now, to regain custody of Justina and continue the Tufts-recommended regiment that was successfully treating her mitochondrial disease.
“She needs physical therapy,” Lou Pelletier said. "She needs to be back on the vitamin cocktail. She needs to be treated for the goddamn diagnosis she had from the beginning. I need to save my daughter. If we don’t do something, she is going to die.”
The Pelletiers set up a PayPal account connected to freejustina.com in hopes of raising money to cover the legal bills from their struggle.
A legal battle in New England is pitting a family against the Boston Children’s Hospital and the state of Massachusetts.
Several years ago, 15-year-old Justina Pelletier was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease – a rare genetic condition with a huge variety of symptoms ranging from loss of muscle coordination to learning disabilities. Justina’s 25-year-old sister Jessica has been diagnosed with the condition as well.
In February 2013, Justina caught the flu. For people with mitochondrial disease, the symptoms of illnesses are amplified. While the flu makes everyone who catches it feel terrible, it’s a full-fledged medical emergency for someone with mitochondrial disease. Accordingly, Justina’s family checked her into the Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) to be monitored as her body fought off the virus.
After three days in the hospital, the medical team at Boston Children’s Hospital told Justina’s family some strange and unexpected news. Doctors believed all of Justina’s ailments – both the flu and her mitochondrial disease – were not legitimate physical illnesses. They believed her symptoms were psychosomatic.
Psychosomatic illness is defined as a sickness having physical symptoms but originating from mental causes. Despite an official mitochondrial disease diagnosis from Tufts Medical Center, the crew at BCH believed Justina’s ailments were mental in nature.
Justina’s family was understandably confused by the BCH team’s diagnosis. They decided they wanted to check Justina out of BCH and take her over to Tufts Medical Center, where she’d been treated for years for her mitochondrial disease. The doctors at BCH had other plans.
When the Pelletiers went to discharge Justina, they were told they wouldn’t be allowed to do so. BCH had filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families saying it suspected the Pelletiers of both child abuse and subjecting Justina to invasive treatments while denying her mental health help.
Today, one year later, Justina remains in the custody of the state of Massachusetts. Justina spent most of last year in a psychiatric ward and now lives in a residential treatment center. State medical officials have prescribed her mental health treatments and discontinued her mitochondrial treatments. The decision stems from their unwavering belief that Justina’s ailments are psychosomatic.
Prior to contracting the flu last year, Justina was an active teenager. Now, having gone a year without mitochondrial treatment, she is wasting away.
“She is going off a cliff,” father Lou Pelletier said. “She looks awful and is pale and her hair is falling out. Her gums are receding and she has no body strength.”
The Pelletiers are locked in a legal battle for their daughter. Massachusetts maintains custody of Justina and does not look to have any intentions of giving her up. The family wants to regain custody of their daughter and admit her to Tufts to resume her past medical treatments.
To help the Pelletiers do so, the Coalition for Diagnostic Rights filed a complaint against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families accusing them of “medical child neglect and medical child abuse for failure to provide medical care” to Justina.
"Doctors are absurdly reckless when they exclude a medical investigation in favor of a vague somatoform diagnosis," a representative from the coalition said. "It's always a guess. This is a battleground where doctors and patients are fighting for authority."
Pelletier told ABC News that Justina’s doctor from Tufts has given them his emphatic support in their fight.
“He’s been crying on the phone with us,” Pelletier said.
While Pelletier acknowledges he is fighting an uphill battle – he recently referred to the situation as “fighting two goliaths” – he insists his family will do whatever it takes to regain custody of Justina.
“I have got to save my daughter’s life,” he said. “The system has failed. I am battling the medical world that thinks it knows everything.”