A Massachusetts judge ruled yesterday that Justina Pelletier will be placed in the permanent custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. Judge Joseph Johnston’s ruling shifts the legal burden of proof to the Pelletier parents if they wish to prove they are fit to care for their child.
The Pelletiers cannot appeal the court's ruling until this summer.
Justina, you may recall, was taken into custody by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families after state officials believed the Pelletiers were overmedicating their daughter by treating her for mitochondrial disease. She had been diagnosed with the disease by a Tufts University medical team. Staff at Boston Children’s hospital believes she suffers from a Somatic Symptom Disorder. Click here to read more background from information from Opposing Views on the story.
In his written decision, Judge Johnston blasts the Pelletier parents for failing to work with Massachusetts state officials over the course of the last year.
Johnston wrote that “since the adjudication on December 20, 2013, this court has considered granting conditional custody to Justina’s parents. Unfortunately, there has not been any progress by the parents. Rather, the parents…continue to engage in very concerning conduct that does not give this court any confidence they will comply with conditions of custody.”
Johsnton writes that early on in the case, the court tried to transfer Justina to a facility about twenty minutes away from her Connecticut home. There, the Pelletier’s could have frequent contact with their daughter while their custody issues were settled in court.
Mr. Pelletier blocked this possibility, though, when he said he would sue the Connecticut facility if they agreed to house his daughter. Judge Johnston also writes that the Pelletier parents were verbally abusive to members of the Boston Children’s Hospital staff.
“While Justina was at Children’s Hospital, the parents were verbally abusive to Justina’s hospital providers,” he writes. “Family members of other patients complained that Justina’s parents stated their children were being kidnapped by the children’s hospital. The parents threatened to have hospital licenses revoked. They threatened to call the FBI. They called 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…there is absolutely no meaningful dialogue by the parents to work towards reunification.”
A representative from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families says the department plans to transfer Justina to a facility in Connecticut as soon as possible “where she has the support of her friends, family, school and community.”
As you would expect, the Pelletiers are infuriated by the court’s decision. Their lawyer, Philip Moran, said “The decision is obviously devastating to the parents and according to them to Justina herself.”
The Pelletier parents can submit new information every six months in attempts to regain custody of Justina. Since Judge Johnston’s decision is dated retroactively to December, their first appeal can be filed in June.