Boston Children’s Hospital May Have Illegally Imprisoned Youth In Psychiatric Care

The parent’s wishes are supposed to be held supreme in almost every medical consideration. But that’s not what allegedly happened to Justina Pelletier, who lodged a medical malpractice lawsuit against Boston Children’s Hospital. She argues that her civil rights were severely violated when the hospital decided to keep her in psychiatric care even without parental consent.

Family lawyer John Martin said, “Justina was the victim of medical malpractice. She and her parents had their civil rights violated through threats, coercion and intimidation while she was a patient at Boston Children’s Hospital.”

The court documents describe Pelletier’s detention in psychiatric care for over a year even though her parents expressly forbid it. 

The hospital has denied the allegations of medical malpractice, which means the matter will be heard in court barring a surprise settlement.

Hospital counselor Ellen Epstein Cohen said that “three good doctors” are being slandered by the lawsuit. 

Pelletier spent 18 months in the care of the Department of Children and Families after doctors diagnosed her with mitochondrial disease. The disorder results when mitochondrial cells malfunction, stunting growth and causing developmental problems. Another symptom of the disease include weakness.

The three doctors accused of malpractice said that her parents were abusive. They said Pelletier’s parents were guilty of causing Munchausen syndrome, a mental illness characterized by patients who pretend to be sick when in fact they are not. These allegations resulted in a subsequent custody battle with bureaucratic squabbles between child protection officials, her parents, doctors, and officials from two states.

Martin fervently denied those allegations, describing the parents’ actions as doing “everything that was in their power to do, and the hospital didn’t like that.” 

A different hospital had previously diagnosed Justina with Tufts, suggesting she should be monitored in a psychiatric department for further treatment. The symptoms of Tufts seemed exaggerated. She showed signs of fatigue, gastrointestinal pain, dehydration, and slurred speech. 

Because Justina’s parents were uncomfortable with this diagnosis, a report was filed by the hospital with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. The report did not result in the barring of parental participation, which came later when Justina’s parents became more combative to the measures taken by the hospitals. 

According to Justina’s parents, they were ultimately provided no more than a single visit every week in addition to two phone calls. Cohen maintains that the Massachusetts DCF decided to limit interaction with Justina because of concerns already mounted. The trial will be ongoing, with both sides expected to call and cross examine multiple witnesses while they go through Justina’s medical records.