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Boston hospital holds teenager against her will

December 13, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Here's a custody case that ought to raise some eyebrows.

Justina Pelletier, age 15, has been held in the psychiatric ward at Boston's Children's Hospital against her will for 10 months because doctors there claim she has a mental illness.

Her parents say she has been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease and was under treatment for it while under their care. She was admitted to Boston Children's Hospital following a bout with the flu last winter and, at that point, doctors decided she had a mental illness called somataform disorder instead. Essentially, they decided the pain was all in the girl's head. The Daily Mail had the most complete story about the case. It can be found at

There's a gag order in the case, but previous stories said the girl is allowed only very brief hour-long visits with family members at the hospital once a week and two monitored phone calls each week. Her physical condition has deteriorated so that she is no longer able to walk unassisted. Before she was admitted to the hospital, she competed in ice skating competitions and attended high school. Unless there's more to this story than is being reported, this is an egregious violation of this girl's rights, not to mention her parents' right to make medical decisions on her behalf and raise her as they see fit.

The parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier, were in court today to try and regain custody of their youngest daughter from Social Services, which has placed her in the psychiatric ward. A decision is expected next week. Here's hoping the judge does the right thing and sends this kid home and that the parents then sue the doctors responsible for this travesty of justice for everything they're worth.


Article Comments



Dec-18-13 7:02 PM

I'm a little late weighing in on this but perhaps these comments may help the next time you address a similar issue. I am a psychiatrist with more than 30 years experience treating patients, especially on an involuntary basis. It is unfortunate that the article in the Minot Daily did not present this story in a more balanced fashion. The concerns I have begin with the newspaper quoted.The address referenced will bring one to a page that is otherwise almost full of stories on celebrities. Reviewing these stories and other "news" suggests this paper is not a newspaper. Perhaps a notch above the Enquirer but still an emphasis on sensation over story. The Boston Globe story referred to in the comments suggestion has a much more complete story. Mitochondrial disease is a recent concept with no consensus of or definitive testing at this time. The fact of this "expert" (from a respected but not a great program)sent her for another opinion is part of this problem. In fact


Dec-15-13 2:12 PM

The Boston Globe has a pretty extensive story in today's paper about the Pelletier case and the ongoing conflict with the hospital. According to the article, Justina has learning disabilities and has had a number of invasive medical procedures to treat some of her problems. The parents were generally seen as a bit difficult and a previous doctor had filed a medical neglect claim against them in 2011, which was dismissed. The article goes into more detail about the girl's symptoms and why the doctors at Children's were suspicious of the first diagnosis. Still, it doesn't explain why the girl remains in a locked psychiatric ward for 10 months and has deteriorated physically. It still sounds to me like the hospital and its doctors have been out of line.


Dec-14-13 7:48 PM

Doctors and nurses and psychiatrists, etc. are mandated reporters. If they saw something that they considered suspicious, they would have reported it to the child protection agency. In practice, though, I imagine that child protection workers and judges will take anything the doctors have to say at face value. Social workers and judges aren't medical professionals and Children's Hospital has a lot of power there. If some psych intern or doctor got it into his head that this kid's parents have Munchausen's, the social worker would go to court, get an order from the judge, and leave her in the psych ward under the doctor's care. And based on what the girl's original doctor says, now it's a power struggle. The doctors don't want to back down and admit they were wrong.


Dec-14-13 2:09 PM

This apparently is not the first case of this type involving Boston Children's Hospital, either. A few months before the drama involving Justina began, Children's Hospital took custody of another girl, Elizabeth Wray, who had been under treatment for a disease called PANDAS. They wanted to put her in a locked psych ward and stop treatment for the disease against her parents' will; she physically deteriorated. I can't find out what happened to that kid, but I certainly hope she isn't still locked up on the psych ward next to Justina. How many other families is this happening to when the parents disagree with the doctors about a diagnosis or course of treatment?


Dec-14-13 11:05 AM

It's also rather ironic that so many families cannot afford or get insurance companies to pay for long-term psychiatric care and this teenager has been kept confined on a psych ward for 10 months. Her family is fairly well-to-do, so I imagine they will try to stick her parents with the bills for the care they didn't want their daughter given in the first place. Failing that, multi million dollar hospital bill will fall to the taxpayer. What seriously mentally ill kid in Massachusetts has been going without needed treatment for the last year because Justina was taking up a bed that he or she could have used?


Dec-14-13 10:57 AM

No, but there's enough in that article to make me think there's something pretty fishy about the hospital's actions. Looking at the documents in the Daily Mail article, I think it's quite likely the doctors suspected both parents of Munchausen by proxy and thought they were making the kid sick or encouraging her to think she was sick. That's the only reason why they'd have required limited, supervised visits and shut the parents out of her medical treatment. But, if that's true, why on earth is this kid now in a wheelchair and being kept on a psych ward in less than ideal circumstances for nearly a year? It sounds like her physical and mental health is far worse than it was when she was living with her parents and receiving treatment for the mitochondrial disease. If nothing else, she should have been put in a normal foster home and treated on an outpatient basis.


Dec-14-13 8:30 AM

You're right - you have but a sliver of the information, certainly not enough to make any judgement about the child's status or the competence of the doctors.


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