The Boston Globe Justina Pelleter "medical child abuse" articles turned the custody case into a cause célèbre. Relentless media questions caused Judge Joseph F. Johnston, Justina's legal advocate, to return her to her parents after separating her from her family for more than sixteen months. Judge Johnston is not named in the malpractice lawsuit but his behavior during the custody proceedings was quite concerning .
The Pelletier family alleges that Boston Children's Hospital and four of its staff violated Justina's civil rights and committed medical malpractice when they challenged Justina's diagnosis and told the Department of Children and Families and Judge Johnston that Justina Pelletier was a victim of medical child abuse perpetuated not by her Tufts physicians but by her parents.
BCH employee Dr. Alice Newton , one of the defendants, was instrumental in persuading Judge Johnston that Lou and Linda Pelletier were unfit parents because they were medically abusing their daughter. Upon investigation Dr. Newton's abuse allegations were specious.
It was Dr. Newton who for all intents and purposes kept Justina from her parents for eight months by incarcerating her in the hospital's psychiatric ward. Some physicians, including Dr. Newton, believe that separating somataform patients from their environment and parents will improve their symptoms. This was an extreme plan for a 14 year old child and especially so since there is scant evidence to support the efficacy of this punitive treatment.
BCH's response to the Pelletier accusations is typical boilerplate:
Boston Children’s Hospital welcomes the opportunity to vigorously defend the medical care it provided to Justina Pelletier. We are committed to the best interests of our patient’s health and well-being, according to the high standards we follow for every patient placed in our care.It is likely that Justina Pelletier would still be a ward of the state if not for Lou Pelletier violating Judge Johnston's gag order and revealing the hospital's Kafkaesque practices.
During its investigation the Globe found disturbing similarities of other parents accused of medical child abuse by Boston Children's Hospital. The modus operandi: have access to critically ill children, the reputation to refute established diagnoses and the power to threaten recalcitrant parents with medical child abuse.
Why would a prestigious hospital want foster children with complex medical conditions?
There are two possibilities: the ability to conduct clinical research without parental interference and access to unlimited insurance coverage. Foster children are valuable commodities: Neither they nor their parents are allowed to say no to prospective research projects. Prior to the state
taking permanent custody of Justina in 2013 Justina and her parents asked that she be returned to Tufts for treatment. Judge Johnston said no.
The Boston Globe has provided the Pelletier attorneys with powerful ammunition. What will the discovery phase reveal?