- By Mark Tait
- Published: April 29th, 2014
Liberty Counsel fights to return Justina Pelletier to her parents after she was taken by Massachusetts DCF
“I feel like a prisoner. Why can’t I go home with my parents?”
These were the words of 15-year-old Justina Pelletier to her parents Lou and Linda Pelletier, according to the family’s attorney Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University School of Law. She was taken out of her parents’ custody and placed in the care of the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) Feb. 14, 2013.
Justina Pelletier was attending a private school and was a competitive figure skater 14 months ago, according to Staver. After becoming ill with the flu, the Connecticut teenager had gastrointestinal distress. Dr. Mark Korson, her treating physician for mitochondrial disease and the Chief of Metabolic Services at Tufts Medical Center, referred her to a gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Upon arrival at the hospital, a new doctor seven-months out of medical school and a psychologist, instead of the doctor she was referred to, saw Justina Pelletier, according to Staver. After a 25-minute interview, and without consultation with her treating physician, he changed her diagnosis to somatoform disorder, meaning they assumed her physical complaints were all in her mind.
“The parents were presented with a one-page treatment plan, and that treatment plan included discontinuing all medications and all medical interventions,” Staver said. “The new treatment proposal also forbade the parents from speaking about medical in the presence of their daughter forbade the parents from seeking a second opinion.”
According to Staver, when Lou and Linda Pelletier said they would like to check their daughter out of the hospital and return to their treating physician at Tufts Medical Center, the Boston Children’s Hospital called Massachusetts DCF.
Staver said DCF prevented the Pelletiers from discharging their daughter, siding with the psychologist over the experts at Tufts Medical Center, and claiming that providing medical treatment was “abuse.”
According to Staver, DCF took custody of the child. Lou and Linda Pelletier were told to leave the hospital without their daughter and to not return, or they would be arrested for trespassing.
“The family was not even able to say goodbye to Justina,” Staver said.
Justina Pelletier has remained under the custody of Massachusetts DCF for the past 14 months, according to Staver. Her deteriorating health has resulted in her hairline receding, and she is now confined to a wheel chair.
“For 14 months, they’ve gone down this road of psychological experimentation,” Staver said. “In 14 months, she’s gone from being a competitive figure skater to being in dire physical condition. The experiment they tried hasn’t worked. … It’s bringing Justina to the point of even death.”
Staver said a lack of medical treatment is not the only thing he believes may be harming Justina Pelletier physically. The 15-year-old girl has sent her parents cards with secret compartments containing messages about abuse under the care of DCF.
“It’s almost like something you’d read from a POW,” Staver said. “I’ve read those cards, and I’ve read what she has told her mom and dad. … You can’t imagine the turmoil that mom and dad and the other three sisters are going through, because they see Justina continually declining physically, and they’re helpless to do anything to help her because DCF won’t allow them to do so.”
According to the Boston Children Hospital’s Clinical Investigations Policy and Procedure Manual, Justina Pelletier is subject to experimentation under the custody of DCF.
“Children who are wards of the state may be included in research that presents minimal risk … or greater than minimal risk with a prospect of direct benefit,” the manual states.
Staver said he believes this policy may have influenced the decision to diagnose Justina Pelletier with a psychological disorder and keep her at the hospital under the custody of DCF. He noted that the psychologist who gave the diagnosis had received a federal grant to research somatoform disorder and had co-authored a paper stating that 50 percent of all minors complaining about physical symptoms actually have nothing wrong with them physically.
“This person believes that one out of every two children who present with a physical complaint is not physical but mental,” Staver said. “It’s all a product of their mind according to this psychologist. It is unbelievable.”
Throughout Justina Pelletier’s time in the custody of DCF, she has not been able to attend school and is not permitted to receive visits from clergy, according to Staver.
“It’s hard for me to say this, but a terrorist (the Boston bomber) is getting better treatment in Massachusetts right now than a sick teenager who’s done nothing wrong,” Lou Pelletier said in an interview with the Boston Herald.
Justina Pelletier’s parents are allowed to speak with their daughter through a 20-minute phone call each Tuesday and a one-hour visit at 1 p.m. each Friday, according to Staver. All conversations are supervised by a DCF official and taking photos or talking about medical matters is prohibited.
“They don’t want the public to see her deteriorating condition,” Staver said. “There’s no other reason why the would prevent the family from taking a photograph of her.”
In addition to visitation restrictions, Justina Pelletier’s family has also been unable to access some information regarding their daughter’s current
“Recently, Justina was taken to the University of Massachusetts emergency room by DCF,” Staver said. “To this day, her parents don’t know why, and when they have a conversation with her, they can’t ask her, because DCF will stop the communication and will stop the visit or the phone call.”
According to Staver, Liberty Counsel is filing several lawsuits in an effort to return Justina Pelletier to her parents’ custody.
“We want to get Justina home to her family as soon as possible, and we want to make sure this never happens again,” Staver said.
The Massachusetts DCF did not respond when asked for comments.