Massachusetts Judge Joseph Johnson has imposed a gag order on the parents of Justina Pelletier, preventing them from raising public questions about why their daughter remains in custody in the Bay State. It is not at all clear to me why the parents have not contested this gag order. Perhaps they hope that by obeying the judge’s order, Massachusetts might give them their daughter back.
One year ago, the West Hartford couple took their then 14-year-old daughter to the Boston Children’s Hospital, where she was admitted. In 2011, Justina was diagnosed by doctors at the Tufts Medical Center as suffering from a rare disorder called mitochondrial disease. Symptoms include weakness, headaches and abdominal pain.
Physicians at the Boston Children’s Hospital questioned the Tufts’ diagnosis; Justina’s malady is psychological in origin, they contended, and hence arguably the result of mistreatment. When Justina’s parents disagreed with the new doctors, administrators at the Boston Children’s Hospital called the state’s child welfare agency, which obtained a court order giving them custody of the child.
For the past year, Justina, now wheelchair-bound, has been held hostage by Bay State busybodies. She’s been in the Boston’s Children’s Hospital, where, according to her parents, her education has been neglected. “She can’t write or spell,” her mother, Linda Pelletier, recently told a reporter, heedless of the gag order. “It’s scary.”
Justina’s parents continue to appear in the Massachusetts juvenile courts, waging a fight not just for custody of their child, but also to have her removed from the Boston Children’s Hospital. At a recent hearing, a physician from Tufts’ testified that Justina does, indeed, suffer from a biological illness, and that Tufts was willing to treat her.
“I have a right as a U.S. citizen to take my daughter to what doctor I want to, and it’s been taken away,” Ms. Pelletier said.
I’m with Ms. Pelletier.
Details about Justina’s treatment are hard to come by, as her case is pending in the juvenile court, and is therefore cloaked in secrecy. But a review of certain fundamentals yield enough light to provoke concerns.
That Justina fails to thrive is obvious. Her parents report that as a young child, she suffered a stroke. The child clearly has extraordinary medical needs. She now exhibits a constellation of symptoms that leave the experts divided as to causation: Tufts’ experts claim a biological origin; Boston Children’s Hospital experts claims psychological causes. This latter theory supports a claim by child welfare workers that Justina has been neglected.
This is not a case in which experts can, apparently, agree. At best, there is a highly circumstantial case against the parents for neglect. But suppose the experts who claim Justina’s illness is biological in origin are correct? In that case, Justina’s been kidnapped, plain and simple, with state workers being given the right to determine what is best.
This latter prospect chills to the bone. Shouldn’t the benefit of the doubt go to a child’s parents? I no more trust the state to raise my children than I trust it to tell me what I can and cannot read. A world run by officious intermedders is an idiot’s paradise.
I am hoping that the Pelletiers break the gag order in this case and take their case public. What would be the harm in doing so? They might be held in contempt? Massachusetts has already done a pretty good job of holding them in a contempt far more damning that a judge’s ire. The Bay State has kidnapped their daughter, and is refusing them the right to talk about it.
Norm Pattis is a criminal defense lawyer and civil rights attorney in Bethany. Most days he blogs at www.pattisblog.com.