Making decisions for a child’s well-being is arguably a parent’s most important responsibility — especially when that child faces a life-threatening disease. According to the Patient Advocate Foundation, seeking a second opinion regarding a serious medical condition is not only a reasonable course of action, but commendable. However, for the Pelletier family, what started as a simple follow-up inquiry regarding their 15-year-old daughter Justina’s health has turned into a 12-month-long nightmare.
In January 2013, after Justina developed a severe bout with the flu, a medical team at Tufts Medical Center in Connecticut, which had been treating Justina’s mitochondrial disease for years, recommended that the Pelletiers visit an expert gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). Unfortunately, that appointment never took place. Upon admission to BCH, Justina was assigned a different doctor who then changed Justina’s original diagnosis of mitochondrial disease to a “psychological disorder,” overruling both the Tufts medical team and Justina’s parents!
Because the Pelletiers resisted the psychological treatment recommended by BCH, the hospital charged them with “medical child abuse” and abruptly placed Justina into the custody of the State of Massachusetts. From that fateful day on February 14, 2013 until early 2014, Justina was locked away in the psych ward at BCH, and she appeared to be waning under the destructive symptoms of mitochondrial disease that were being left untreated. In late January, Justina was placed in a residential facility, the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, in Framingham, Massachusetts, and she has continued to receive treatment for psychosomatic illness rather than mitochondrial disease for some time.
Meanwhile, Justina’s parents have been forbidden to freely visit their daughter except for a weekly one-hour visit that is supervised by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). To add insult to injury, Judge Joseph Johnston, the judge presiding over the case, has placed a gag order on the Pelletiers, legally prohibiting these distraught parents from publically speaking out about their daughter’s case.
This intrusive and heavy-handed government overreach has sparked a national public outcry triggering pro-life groups such as Online for Life, Personhood USA, and Liberty Counsel to collectively advocate for Justina’s release.
As an organization committed to rescuing unborn babies and their families from abortion, Online for Life acknowledges that the Pelletier case is a rather unconventional cause for us to champion. But if we claim to value life at all stages of development and without discrimination, then protecting Justina’s human dignity is a natural extension of the pro-life movement. We cannot in good conscience advocate that all life is intrinsically worthy of protection and dignity, yet stand idly by while a 15-year-old girl is stripped of hers.
When asked why an organization like Personhood USA would get involved in this case, Keith Mason, Founder and President, echoes the interests of Online for Life, “We were moved, and touched, and our hearts broke that the dignity of Justina is being violated, and she is not being cared for properly.”
Likewise, Mathew Staver, a pro-life attorney working for the Liberty Counsel, explains why his organization has come alongside the Pelletiers’ legal team: “What we have is Boston Children’s Hospital and the Department of Children and Families, DCF, taking this child away from these parents who love this daughter and who want to care for this daughter and who simply disagree with the recent diagnosis.”
Personhood USA and Online for Life have jointly spearheaded The Free Justina Project, an online campaign designed to build awareness of the Pelletiers’ case and mobilize concerned citizens. So far, the Free Justina petition has garnered over 8,000 signatures, while hundreds of phone calls have poured into Judge Johnston’s office on her behalf.
In its latest effort to exert political pressure, The Free Justina Project has launched a nationwide write-in campaign urging members of the Massachusetts General Court to support the resolution to Free Justina. More than 22 Massachusetts state representatives have announced their support of legislative efforts that would begin the process of returning Justina to her family by signing the Free Justina resolution in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In Connecticut, 15 legislators have signed a letter to Connecticut’s DCF, urging them to let the Pelletier family take custody of Justina, rather than accept custody of her from the Massachusetts DCF. Meanwhile, there has been a public outcry asking for a full-scale investigation into the Massachusetts DCF’s handling of the case.
Because of the public’s recent involvement, the initial gag order and contempt charges have been withdrawn as of Monday, March 3. These early victories in this ongoing battle are largely due to the public speaking up on Justina’s behalf. Online for Life and Personhood USA are grateful for the involvement of the public, but we acknowledge that our work is not yet finished.
To find out how you can get involved in the fight to help return Justina to her parents, please visit justiceforjustina.com.
LifeNews Note: Reprinted with permission from Online for Life.