HARTFORD, Conn., April 25, 2014 – A year ago, Justina was a flourishing 14-year-old girl who lived with her parents in Connecticut, had an active social life and took part in figure skating competitions.
Today, Justina is a wheelchair-bound ward of the state who has been warehoused for over a year in psychiatric facilities with no substantial access to her family and friends, and reportedly has resorted to scrawling SOS letters begging for physical protection from the same State workers charged with her care.
Justina Pelletier is a 15-year-old disabled Connecticut resident diagnosed with mitochondrial disease (and later somatoform disorder) who is under the legal and physical care and control of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) since 2013.
According to Boston Herald writer Michael Graham, Gov. Deval Patrick has said:
“I see in your letter that you continue to misunderstand the role of the commonwealth in Justina’s case,” Patrick wrote the representative. Justina is in DCF custody because “a judge ruled that her parents were unfit to care for her” in February 2013. “[A] decision,” Patrick wrote, “based on a detailed record of the history of neglect in the home.” …
As the governor mentioned, Justina was seized back in early 2013 during her initial visit to Children’s. That hospital and DCF knew literally nothing about the Pelletier family of Connecticut at that time — certainly not about life “in the home.”
Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Johnston’s March 2014 ruling is clear on that point: “At the outset, [Massachusetts] DCF filed a report of neglect of Justina by her parents with the [Connecticut] DCF,” he wrote. That “outset” was four days after her arrival at Children’s. How could anyone at DCF have any knowledge of “neglect in the home.”
According to a list allegedly penned by Justina, these are the top 15 reasons why the State of Connecticut should rescue her from Massachusettes DFC and send her home to her parents (errors in spelling not corrected):
- Wen I got on harnes thing (sic) they moved my legs I didn’t walk or stand
- Thay are lying
- what happen the other nite how did you see me
- O.T laff at me wen I’m [falling? Balling?]
- and alot more……
- Wen am I looking on news I am speking up Like (I cant do it) they say YES and
- then I say it (torcher stop) then that say nuthang and fete pushing me and goes on and on!
- they yel at me.
- Plese don’t le me go anyware els!
- that don’t care that Im sick that tret me the same way!
- It’s with everything!
- they do not let me sleep vary much
- Carolin/Kristin and more O.T and more
- They hurt me all the time push me all the time and more.
Justina’s Decline From Competitive Figure Skater to Wheel Chair Bound State Ward
In February 2013, Justina was taken to the Boston Children’s Hospital ER suffering from flu-like symptoms while her doctor at Tufts was on vacation. DCF apparently took custody of Justina because a BCH resident (who was running a somatoform disorder study) decided within 72 hours of meeting Justina that her problems were all up in her head, and the Tufts doctors (who had been treating her for years) had misdiagnosed her with a rare metabolic disorder.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, BCH could find no physical explanation for Justina’s pain, severe musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and neurological problems after negating the Tufts diagnosis she received from Tufts (which was based on years of observation and treatment).
That was when the State became convinced by BCH’s speculative explanation that Justina’s parents may be suffering from an extremely rare psychiatric condition called Munchausen by proxy, and it was causing them to seek medical attention for Justina by exaggerating, falsifying or even causing Justina’s illness. The State believes that Justina’s grave physical condition is essentially a manifestation of her parent’s mental illness and her own.
In March 2014, Judge Jeffrey Johnston issued a puzzling judgment placing Justina permanently in Massachusett’s DCF’s care because
(a) Connecticut DCF refused to cooperate and re-open a case on the Pelletiers and assume custody of Justina, and
(b) the State and the hospital dislike the Pelletier’s less than nonchalantly complicit attitude towards the professionals who took their child and denied her what they believe was proper medical care.
The judge noted CT DCF’s reluctant determination that the Pelletier’s were unfit came several months after MA DCF issued their determination and insisted CT DCF open another case on the Pelletier’s.
Nonetheless, Judge Johnston’s decision also placed Justina back in the care of the same Tufts doctors who he believed had misdiagnosed her and acted as pawns for the parents to a degree that posed a “risk of death or serious physical injury” sufficient to effectively terminate their parental rights in the first place.
The Pelletier’s other children remain in their parent’s home.
DCF, GOVERNORS PLAY PASS THE BUCK ON PELLETIER CASE
Ultimately, DCF is an agency that falls under the Executive Branch, which is overseen by the governor. It would, therefore, seem that the Governor has the power to furlough prisoners, surely there is something more the governor could do to help Justina and her family.
When asked about Justina’s case today, Governor Deval Patrick said that “She should be in Connecticut. We have appeared in court to have her sent home to Connecticut. Believe it or not the court has jurisdiction, not us.”
Today the Boston Globe reported that while the State cools its’ heels waiting for “justice” to save Justina, the hacker group Anonymous has decided to target Boston Children’s Hospital in an effort to actually do something to get to the bottom of why Justina is not home with her family in Connecticut.
It remains undisputed that Justina has special needs, that her parents love her and want to care for her, and that Justina’s parents are fit to care for her siblings (one of whom also suffers from mitochondrial disorder). In the year that Justina has been in State care, she has been allowed to see her family for only a couple supervised hours per week, which is why Justina was allowed only an hour with her family last Easter Sunday.
Yesterday was Mrs. Pelletier’s birthday, but Justina won’t be allowed to wish her a happy birthday until Friday.
Experts like Dr. Eli Newberger (who founded BCH’s Child Protection Unit, retired a decade ago) say these somatic disorder labels make great alibis for predators in cases where a child is abused or trafficked, but the trouble in Justina’s case is that it is difficult to know who the real abuser is?
While parents may joke that they have suffered severe musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and neurological problems trying to keep up with their teenagers, DCF is convinced the opposite is true in the Pelletier case.
According to the State, the Pelletiers are a working class family that stand stands accused of being the masterminds behind a massive conspiracy to harm their own child, and for several years, the family has outsmarted the best hospitals and teams of specialists in the world. DCF is sure that the Pelletiers have convinced a 15-year-old girl to let her gums recede, her hair drop out, and stay planted in a wheel chair to keep her out of trouble and highlight their own great parenting skills.
According to the National Institute of Health, Somatoform disorder is rare, affecting less than 1% of the population. Munchausen’s is even less common, affecting 0.5%-2%of the United States population.
Without formally enlisting the services of a statistician, it would seem that the chances of the Pelletiers getting struck by lightening while riding on the back of a shark may be slightly more likely than both of her parents suffering from Munchausen by proxy disorder while their daughter simultaneously suffers from somatoform disorder, causing such extreme physical symptoms in Justina despite being out of her parent’s care for a year.
Not to mention the ridiculous notion that these regular folks would be able to pull this caper off for several years while having [expensive] routine contact with the best medical professionals, yet the Pelletier’s don’t have enough connections in Massachusetts to stop the State from snatching the kid?
Aside from the millions of dollars the State has probably spent on Justina’s direct care, think about all the days off from work, long car rides, the financial and emotional capital the Pelletier’s would have had to spend in order to do the terrible things the State is accusing them of.
By contrast, here’s what the FBI had to say about the prevalence of healthcare fraud:
Health care fraud costs the country an estimated $80 billion a year. And it’s a rising threat, with national health care spending topping $2.7 trillion and expenses continuing to outpace inflation. Recent cases also show that medical professionals are more willing to risk patient harm in their schemes.
The whole debacle leads me to believe that at best, the greatest charade the Pelletier’s have pulled off to date is stifling their emotions in the face of having their child taken away by judgmental State workers who lack “boots on the ground” experience raising teenagers (never mind a teenager with severe disabilities).
At worst, some legislators are asking the types of questions one would want to know if they thought Justina could be part of a “kids for cash” scam that uses deliberate misdiagnosis of mental illnesses to traffic children to the hospitals conducting experiments on them.
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