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Judge gives custody of teen to state in case of conflicting medical diagnoses

Posted Mar 27, 2014 8:38 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Massachusetts judge has awarded custody of a 15-year-old girl to the state in a court battle spurred by conflicting diagnoses.

Judge Joseph Johnston in a March 25 order (PDF) that the girl’s Connecticut parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier, were impeding progress in the case and they needed “psychological and clinical evaluations.” The Boston Globe, Fox News and the Blaze have stories.

Lou and Linda Pelletier say they lost custody of their daughter on Valentine's Day last year after taking her to Boston Children's Hospital for gastrointestinal problems. The girl was being treated for mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder affecting the cells, at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, but doctors at Boston Children’s said they suspected the girl’s problems were psychiatric in nature.

Johnston agreed with the Boston Children’s doctors. After receiving “extensive psychiatric and medical testimony,” he found that the teen “suffers from a persistent and severe Somatic Symptom Disorder,” a psychological condition where the patient suffers from pain that may not have an underlying medical cause.

A lawyer for the Pelletiers, Phil Moran, told Fox News the psychiatric diagnosis was made within 25 minutes after the teen's arrival at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Pelletiers rejected the diagnosis. Johnston said the teen was ready for discharge from the hospital’s psychiatric unit in June 2013, but she remained there an additional seven months because her parents’ actions hampered the girl’s placement.

The parents were “verbally abusive” to hospital providers, said their daughter was being kidnapped by the hospital, threatened to call the FBI, called hospital personnel “Nazis,” and used profanity directed at personnel with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families in their daughter’s presence, Johnston said. A Massachusetts social worker had to be removed from the case, Johnston said, because of a threat by Lou Pelletier.

Lou Pelletier told Fox News his anger should not have been surprising. "There's never been a complaint about the Pelletier family regarding our daughter, our family, prior to Boston Children's Hospital getting involved," Pelletier said. "The complaints have been when DCF decided we didn't smile rightly at them or do whatever."

Johnston said Connecticut child protection officials failed to get involved in the case, even after it was provided with court documents and ordered to investigate transferring conditional custody of the teen to her parents.The Connecticut Department of Children and Families finally acted early this year when it determined that returning custody of the girl to her parents was not in the child’s interests.

According to the Boston Globe, several conservative Christian groups are supporting the parents and opposing intervention as an interference with parental rights. Johnston’s March 25 order denied a request by lawyer Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel in Florida to help represent the parents. Johnston said the parents had agreed to move the teen to Connecticut officials under a temporary custody arrangement, but Staver later informed a lawyer in the case that the Pelletiers would accept nothing less than a placement in their home.

Staver told the Blaze that three psychiatric experts testified before the court. One diagnosed somatoform disorder, another diagnosed a different psychiatric disorder, while a third testified the teen had depression related to the symptoms of mitochondrial disease.

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