The Case of Justina Pelletier
Last February, 15-year-old Justina Pelletier was forcibly removed from her parents’ custody during an inpatient stay at Boston Childrens’ Hospital for the flu, according to several reports by the Boston Globe. While she’d had ongoing treatment for a longstanding diagnosis of “Mitochondrial Disorder” from doctors at Tufts Medical Center, Justina’s new doctors at Boston Childrens’ insisted that diagnosis was wrong because Justina has Somatoform Disorder instead – that is, her symptoms are “all in her head”.
Because Justina’s parents disagreed with that conclusion, insisting their daughter needed her established treatments for Mitochondrial Disorder, BCH initiated emergency custody proceedings that enabled them to forcibly detain the girl for mental health treatment. She has now been held in a locked inpatient mental health ward against her wishes – and her parents wishes – for ten months, with supervised family visits once a week.
Justina has been refused many of the treatments prescribed by doctors familiar with her case at Tufts, and has reportedly been refused consultation with those doctors, who were barred from involvement in her case at the start. Like Justina’s parents, her Tufts physicians have been threatened with arrest if they violate a court gag order by publicly speaking out. Mitochondrial Disorders are progressive and can be life-threatening.
Just before Christmas the courtroom erupted with a shout of “Evil!”, Boston Globe reported, as Judge Joseph Johnston announced the court’s decision to hold Justina through the holidays, while a court investigator looks into the case. Judge Johnston reconsidered the case again on January 10, when Lou and Linda Pelletier emerged from the courtroom, clearly more hopeful than they’d been in the past.
Justina Pelletier remains in the custody of the state, now an inpatient at Wayside Youth and Family Support Network in Framingham, according to Boston Globe.
To assist us in our efforts to free Justina Pelletier, join The Coalition here, then download our symbol and post it freely to show your solidarity.
For clarity on common confusions about patients’ rights with respect to Somatoform Disorder, click here.
For a list of the rights of patients with, or considered for, Somatoform Disorder (or any other version of “it’s all in your head”) click here.