Justina Pelletier is a fifteen-year-old girl from Connecticut who was born prematurely and suffers from mitochondrial disease, a little-known and somewhat controversial metabolic disorder. For over a year, she had been treated for this condition, also afflicting her older sister, by Dr. Mark Korson, a well-regarded specialist in metabolic diseases at Tufts Medical Center. Last February, her parents, who had become alarmed when a heavy case of the flu led to a serious deterioration in the child’s condition, brought her to Boston Children’s Hospital. BCH is a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School. The idea was that while there she would see her regular gastroenterologist, and her care would be coordinated by Dr. Korson.
Shockingly, she somehow came under the control of the Harvard-affiliated psychiatry department there, who proclaimed that they did not believe in mitochondrial disease, gave her a diagnosis of “somatoform disorder,” and refused to allow Dr. Korson to see the child or participate in her care. When the parents protested, the psychiatrists immediately petitioned the local family court, who immediately agreed to take away legal custody of the parents on the grounds of “medical child abuse.”
The girl is now in the psychiatric ward of the hospital, where she has been for the last ten months. Of course, it is almost certain that she is being given the usual drugs that almost all psychiatric patients are forced to take. Given that the child already has a metabolic disorder, and that psych drugs are notorious for disturbing the metabolic systems of the victims, Justina may well be in great physical danger.
It is impossible for me to describe adequately the horror of all this, and I am burned out with horror stories anyway. For those MIA readers who are not familiar with Justina’s situation, I urge you to read the following long and well-researched stories that appeared in mid-December in the Boston Globe, the city’s newspaper of record.
There is also a discussion in the “forum” section of MIA, initiated by “Cataract.”
This use of the courts to force parents to allow unwanted psychiatric interventions on their children seems to have been increasing lately. As a patients’ rights lawyer in California, I have received more and more complaints from parents who had their children taken away by the family court/”child welfare” complex so that their kids could have drugs forced on them.
I myself, as a six-year-old in a foster home, part of this “welfare” system, when my time came, was taken away from the only parents I had ever known and turned over to a famous child psychiatrist to be shocked and raped and tortured, and then left for dead, dumped into a state hospital for the rest of my childhood. The courts did not have to be involved, as my foster parents, who tried to protect me, had no parental rights to be taken away.
Later, as a law student and a clerk for a young attorney himself just two years out of law school, I saw the family court in action. Paul, my boss, had been appointed the attorney for “Tommy,” a seven-year-old, frightened and shy little boy. Paul, unlike a lot of the lawyers in that position who just take the money and do nothing, was a decent conscientious guy. He found several couples who were interested in adopting Tommy in spite of his problems. When Paul asked the judge for permission to have the prospective adoptive parents meet with the boy, the county counsel, representing “child welfare,” jumped up and said, “He can’t be adopted. He’s been molested!” And the judge nodded sagely and said, “Yes, Mr K., he can’t be adopted. He’s been molested.” I have told this story to many people, and they only believe it because they know me. Otherwise, they find it incredible.
One of the biggest reasons that travesties of justice like this can take place is that child custody cases are almost always heard in closed courtrooms, where the public, or the media, never see the outrageous decisions that are issued.
(In the case of Tommy, eleven years later, I was still doing some work for Paul, and one day saw a young man hanging out in Paul’s office. It turned out to be Tommy, who had just “aged out” of the “child welfare “ system. So I gave Tommy a copy of a short article I had written about my own experiences in the system. He looked confused and embarrassed, and I wondered why, Later Paul told me it was because Tommy had never been taught to read, in all the years the “child welfare” system had controlled his life. Instead of being allowed to grow up with a loving adoptive family, he had been drugged, bounced from institution to institution, and never been prepared to live on his own.)
So with all I know about and have experienced myself from this system, I am not surprised that Justina Pelletier’s parents have lost custody of their daughter because they resisted what the psychiatrists want to do to her. What I am surprised by is that there seems to have developed a lot of public outrage about this situation.
Outrage even though, or perhaps partly because, as well, of the involvement of Harvard psychiatrists in this situation. Harvard, an institution run almost entirely for the benefit of the “one percent,” even though it soaks up huge amounts of public funds, has a nearly four-century history of producing some of the most evil and powerful oppressors in American history, from Cotton Mather, the persecutor of “witches,” in the seventeenth century, to Dr. Joseph Biederman today. Biederman, who has testified under oath that he considers his place in the universe to be just below God, and who has openly solicited bribes from drug companies in exchange for phony “research” that would promote their products for use against children, is responsible for the drugging and labelling of hundreds of thousands of children, whose lives have been ruined.
What a perfect example of a psychopathic personality, by the psychiatric profession’s own standards. Doctor Biederman is considered a leader of his profession. No wonder that the profession is dominated by psychopaths. And these are the people who now demand that parents who resist what they want to do have their children taken away by the courts, who are all too eager to comply. (For more about Doctor Biederman and his colleagues, please see the recent article in MIA, “Neuroleptics for Children: Harvard’s Shame,” by Philip Hickey.)
This new awareness by people who would otherwise ignore the outrages of psychiatry is a very important opportunity for our movement to point out to the public what psychiatry is really about. As long as the public thinks that the only people affected by psychiatry are the weird psychotic killers that we psychiatrically-labeled people have been portrayed as, no one will care what is done to us. But this is a moment when we have the opportunity of showing that the unchecked power of psychiatry puts everyone at risk. There are few strategic moments like this, and our movement has to take advantage of them.
Several years ago, the widely-reported death of four-year-old Rebecca Riley as a result of massive psychiatric drugging from the age of two was a similar strategic moment. Yet our movement said and did nothing. Children and their parents abused by psychiatry is an issue that most people resonate to, and we must use this opportunity to educate the public. It’s a rare chance to get out of our little bubble, where we mainly preach to the choir.
Parents in the “mito” community have called for a demonstration in front of the courthouse on January 10. Although I live on the opposite side of the country and can barely pay my rent, I am going to do everything in my power to be there. I hope everyone who lives nearby will come to this demo and raise the issue of psychiatric abuse. It’s a chance to show that our issues make sense to ordinary people, as they too are threatened by the power of psychiatry, a power that has no place in a democratic society.
As my hero Frederick Douglass wrote many years ago, ”Those who profess to favor freedom but deprecate agitation are people who want crops without plowing up the ground…Power concedes nothing without a struggle.”
Yes, power concedes nothing without a struggle, and we have to focus whatever resources we have for that struggle in the most effective way possible. Let’s pay attention to this opportunity, and support Justina Pelletier and her parents in the best way we can.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.