The Justina Pelletier saga has been continued until Feb. 4.
Family and probate court judge Joseph Johnston ruled on Friday that 15-year-old Justina Pelletier is to remain in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families for another three-and-a-half weeks.
She has been in the custody of Massachusetts DCF since February 2013.
Still, according to Justina’s father Lou Pelletier, "progress is being made."
“The proof will be in the pudding in a few weeks,” said Lou, who, along with the rest of the Pelletier family, remains under a gag order.
Linda Pelletier, Justina's mother, said that she is "hopeful."
The family's mood Friday stood in contrast to Dec. 20, when the Pelletiers tearfully exited the courthouse with Lou proclaiming, "Evil!"
Justina's care is being transferred to Tufts, where she will be transferred to a step-down unit, according to a source close to the situation.
The judge, according to the source, said that he "wants [Justina] back in Connecticut." The necessity for the step-down unit is because Justina is so medically fragile.
About 15 people showed up outside the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse Friday morning to support the Pelletiers or protest Boston Children’s Hospital.
One person held a sign that said, “Close Bader 5,” the psychiatric ward where Justina and other children are, or have been, housed.
Others took up the Pelletiers' cause by writing letters to various officials.
Kathleen Higgins, a former Boston Children’s nurse, wrote a Jan. 8 letter to Olga Roche, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, stating that the hospital’s treatment was more akin to “torture.”
“From the perspective of the teen whose life has been derailed, she is the ward of a state devoid of compassion and conscience, prohibited from contact with every facet of her life that holds meaning for her,” Higgins wrote. “I am submitting this information, which has been made public, in the form of a complaint against Judge Joseph Johnston, Dr. Colleen Ryan and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families for the emotional and medical abuse Justina Pelletier has suffered for nearly a year.”
Higgins expressed her concern for the teen, who has been told by Boston Children’s doctors that she won’t be returned to her parents and that she is not in need of medical attention.
“Any caregiver who failed to respond to their child’s complaints of pain; who chose instead to isolate and imprison their child to “force her to accept that she was not in need of medical attention”, would be accused of emotional abuse and medical neglect of their child,” Higgins wrote.
In addition, attorney Barry Pollack, a former federal prosecutor and the longest-tenured member of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, called for the closure of the psychiatric unit of Boston Children’s Hospital, which is known as Bader 5.
“Based on [published] reports by several families, there has been a pattern of abuse of children by one or more healthcare providers at the Bader 5 inpatient unit of Children’s Hospital,” Pollack wrote. “My clients’ case involved the failure of Bader 5 providers to protect a 14-year-old girl, as set forth in the accompanying Complaint. I understand that other cases in which children have been confined in Bader 5 involve(d) controversial diagnoses concerning mitochondrial disorder (such as in the high profile Pelletier case and a less publicized Hilliard case), PANDAS (such as in the Wray case), and Lyme disease.”
Pollack went on to call Bader 5’s approach as “anti-parent” that “fails to respect the time-honored importance of the parental relationship, at the expense of children and families.”
“Children in Bader 5 can be blocked from the outside world and even at times daylight,” Pollack wrote. “For those children, like all victimized children, an important step in recovery can be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing by an institution that has failed them. Bader 5 has clearly failed and hurt many of its patients and their families.”
Justina, who has been diagnosed and treated by Tufts doctors for mitochondrial disorder, a rare genetic disease, was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital for a bout with the flu.
Justina’s regular doctor was unavailable at the time.
Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital reportedly said that mitochondrial disorder does not exist and diagnosed Justina with somatoform disorder, a mental illness characterized by pain and gastrointestinal symptoms that have no identifiable physical cause.
Since that day in February, the Justina Pelletier’s parents — Linda and Lou — have seen the situation devolve into the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families taking custody of the girl and limiting contact with Justina to just one hour a week, with two 20-minute phone calls (which are monitored by hospital staff). Justina’s condition has also worsened.
The family has been out of contact with Justina since Dec. 20.