“This case solely revolves around Boston Children’s Hospital disagreeing with Tufts Medical Center by reclassifying Justina’s medical condition from physical to mental,” said Mathew D. “Mat” Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989 by offering pro-bono legal assistance and representation.
When Justina Pelletier’s parents refused to sign a new medical plan committing to the end of any medical treatment or medications, BCH contacted the Department of Children & Families who, after alleging medical abuse, prevented the Pelletier’s from discharging their daughter from the hospital, he said.
“In January 2013 Justina was attending private school and involved in figure skating competitions,” he said. “Now she is in a wheel chair, very weak and losing her hair.”
Justina is in this deteriorating condition because she is not receiving the medical attention she needs for Mitochondrial disease, he continued. “If DCF were correct that the parents were inventing the physical ailments and it was all psychological, then when the medical care was taken away she would have gotten better, but instead she got worse.”
Justina was previously under the treatment of Dr. Mark S. Corson, chief of Metabolic Service at Tufts. In February 2013 when 14 year old Justina presented with a flu-like symptom and was unable to eat properly for about a week because of gastro-intestinal issues, Corson recommended the family seek the advice of Dr. Alex Torres at BCH, said Staver. “Dr. Torres is a gastroenterologist, formally at Tufts who had seen Justina before.”
However, when the parents took Justina to the emergency room at BCH, she is seen by the on-staff physician – only seven months out of medical school – instead of Torres, who disagreed with the mitochondrial disease diagnosis and called in an on-staff psychologist, Dr. I. Simona Bujoreau, to interview Justina, he said. “Bujoreanu re-classified her condition to Somatoform disorder.”
The re-classification was premature, without consultation with Justina’s treating physicians, and determined after just a 25-minute interview, he said.
“There is no definitive traces of Somatoform like there is with Mitochondrial disease,” said the constitutional lawyer. “Once you exclude all other physical causes for whatever symptom is being presented, the fall back is: then it must be mental.”
At the direction of DCF and objection of the parents, Justina was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital through the ER and stayed there for a number of months. She was moved to the children’s ward and then the psych ward to be eventually transferred to a non-medical facility where she receives no medical attention at all, said Staver. “They are treating her only on the psychological condition.”
When a minor is taken into state custody, the judge is required by law to have what is called a “72-hour Hearing” which requires a hearing be held within 72-hours of the child abduction, he said. “In that time DCF has to prove a higher burden to be able to maintain custody of that child.”
Justina was taken under state custody on Feb. 14, 2013, yet the court – after a couple of adjournments – did not hold the “72-hour Hearing” until April 19 over two months later, he said.
At the 72-hour Hearing before Judge Joseph Johnston at the Suffolk County Juvenile Court in Boston in the spring of last year, the court determined that since Connecticut DCF – who has true jurisdiction over the minor child – was not interested in becoming involved in the case, orally-ordered Massachusetts DCF to send Justina home, he said.
Judge Johnston said: “I am inclined to send Justina back home; make preparations to have her discharged.”
DCF did not return Justina back home as the court ordered, said Staver who is dean of Liberty University School of Law in Virginia. “DCF came back saying the judge cannot force them to do something that does not exist in a written order.”
The judge at that point should have dismissed the case since Massachusetts has no jurisdiction over the minor child who resided in Connecticut, but neglected to enforce his own order and follow statute, he said.
“The judge has never issued a written order that is required by statute which includes a statement of facts and provisions of law to justify DCF’s continued custody.”
There was no real investigation conducted, nor is there any real basis to keep Justina a ward of the state, he said. “DCF never interviewed the parents nor the child’s sisters who are now aged 20, 25 and 30. Never did a home inspection. Never talked to the people at the private school that Justina was attending. Never spoke to the treating physicians.”
Last year Corson, who is an associate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, filed an affidavit in court stating he was distressed over the way BCH presented itself in this case, he said.
Corson was concerned that BCH did not reach-out to Justina’s treating physicians and were not medically treating her, said Staver. “Corsen said that the worst thing DCF could do to Justina is remove her from her family and her school.”
Additionally, there was a psychologist who saw Justina in 2006 that filed an affidavit striking down the Somatoform diagnosis, he said. “From a psychological standpoint, the psychologist said people with Somatoform withdraw from society – they want to be alone. Justina likes to be in school, she likes to be with her friends, and she likes to be in sports – that’s not Somatoform.”
There is much evidence of an out-of-control system without accountability, said the author of nine books, including Faith and Freedom: A Complete Handbook for Defending Your Religious Rights, Religion and the Future of America.
“Ninety-four children have died in DCF custody over the last few years. Currently there are 144 who are missing from the DCF system.”
Uncovered in a Boston Globe report were instances of child abduction under the guise of “medical neglect” at BCH as in Justina’s case, he said.
“For example, a five your old child was brought into the ER at around the same time as Justina whose mitochondrial disease was re-classified to mental and the same thing happened — DCF took the child. The case was eventually resolved and the parents got their child back at a later date.”
When children become wards of the state, they become vulnerable to becoming subjects of research at BCH, said Staver.
“BCH is a teaching hospital for Harvard University,” he continued. “We do not know for a fact that Justina is a subject, but we do know that psychologist Dr. Bujoreanu is conducting research on a National Institute of Health funded grant on the topic of Somatoform gastro-intestinal discomfort.”
Liberty Counsel has been representing the Pelletier’s for about four or five weeks, he said.
“We got on the case because Lou Pelletier went on national media to talk about his daughter after Judge Johnston issued a gag order from the bench in November.”
DCF wanted to hold Pelletier in contempt of court for talking to the media, but we were able to negotiate an agreement, he said. “We came in and four days later, DCF backed away from the contempt gag order – now it’s gone.”
Liberty Counsel convinced DCF to have Justina treated at Tufts – which is what the parents wanted 14 months ago – and to-date she is still being held at a non-medical facility, said Staver. “We are three weeks after the agreement and DCF has not set up the treatment at Tufts so we filed a contempt motion.”
At last week’s hearing, Judge Johnston ruled that DCF can retain custody of Justina and that the parties should return before him on June 20 which is six months from the last time Johnston heard the matter, he said. “But this time the burden is on the parents to show that they should have her back.”
Liberty Counsel will be filing a “habeas corpus” petition with the court of appeals this week; within the next couple of weeks Liberty Counsel will be filing a “habeas corpus” petition in federal court and thereafter a number of civil rights actions, he said. “There are serious civil rights violations not just against Justina but against mom and dad, too.”