Justina Pelletier, a fifteen-year-old girl from West Hartford, Connecticut, has captured the heart of the American public. Whether or not Justina Pelletier survives her ordeal is yet to be determined. Thousands of people nationwide are praying. What is certain at this point is that Justina is truly America’s Sweetheart. She will never be forgotten, and life holds so much for her future.
Justina Pelletier was an extraordinary girl, even before her kidnapping at Boston Children’s Hospital on Valentine’s Day, 2013. She had suffered a stroke at the age of six, and nearly died of gastro-intestinal problems before finally receiving a diagnosis of mitochondrial disease at Tufts University Medical Center in Boston.
Under the care of Tufts’ Dr. Korson, Justina was doing well. So well, in fact, that she had an active social life, was very involved with school where her specific learning needs were being fully addressed. Before Justina came down with the flu, she was a competitive ice skater.
“Mito” is a genetic disorder of the tiny mitochondria inside cells whose contribution is to create energy for the cells, which means energy for the body. Mitochondrial dysfunction expresses differently for each person who has it, affecting some organ systems more than others depending on the person.
The Pelletiers are solid, community people; Catholic Church members, with strong family ties and core American values. Justina’s father has made a career in senior investments, and Lou and Linda have given their daughter Justina the kind of home every little girl dreams of, with her own room, a pool, and pets. Justina Pelletier really loves to play with her dogs.
Before Justina came down with the flu in February, 2013, she celebrated with her grandmother on her 92nd birthday. It was a joyous occasion. They had so very much to be thankful for.
Who could have imagined that the event of a young teenager coming down with the flu could turn into a witch trial in Boston, home of the original Tea Party? We are talking, here, about the same place where the American colonists finally said “ENOUGH” to Britain’s King George and the largest corporation of those times, the East India Trading Company.
For people with mitochondrial disease, and especially those affected with gastrointestinal problems like Justina, the flu can be life threatening. When Justina started getting sick, Dr. Korson at Tufts became concerned enough to arrange hospital admission. Because Dr. Flores, a gastroenterologist who specializes in mitochondrial disease, had recently moved over from Tufts across town to Boston Children’s Hospital (with his entire team), Dr. Korson arranged with Dr. Flores to meet Justina on admission to the ER. As medicine advances and real causes of people’s suffering are identified scientifically, diagnoses like mitochondrial disease, Lyme’s disease, and mastocytosis (to name a few) enable people to manage and to contribute to their community and live the kinds of fulfilling lives that the founders of our country imagined when they wrote about the inalienable rights of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Justina’s nightmare began when she was prevented from seeing Dr. Flores. She arrived sick, after a long ambulance ride from Hartford to Boston, only to be commandeered into the care of a neurologist and psychologist, one of whom said to her “There is no such thing as mitochondrial disease.”
Justina felt bullied as they interrogated her, suggesting she should have fought against having surgical procedures that were “unnecessary.”
Justina Pelletier has never seen Dr. Flores at Boston Children’s. On Valentine’s Day 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) sealed her fate, taking temporary custody of Justina so they could force treat her for a psychological condition they called somatoform disorder.
It was like a coup d’etat. DCF has no medical director, even though the funding for one has been in place for five years. DCF relies heavily on Boston Children’s to fulfill that function. So, when Boston Children’s recommends removal, it is a done deal. Justina never had a chance.
Justina also happened to be a perfect subject for the “somatoform studies” funded by the NIH and directed by I. Simona Bujoreanu, the psychologist who diagnosed her in the ER and prevented Dr. Flores from seeing his patient. When BCH removes custody from parents, they can legally be enrolled in research studies at Boston Children’s, involuntarily, even if there is more than a “minor deleterious effect” on the child. This, of course is “for the greater good.”
For the following nine months Justina was kept in a locked psychiatric ward called Bader 5, where she saw no medical doctors. She received no educational services and was prevented from taking communion with a priest. She was not permitted to attend mass on either Christmas or Easter, and was only permitted short family visits in which no one was permitted to discuss how she was feeling.
Nonetheless, Justina managed to communicate. She told her family that she was in constant pain, and she told them she felt like a prisoner. She asked them why she could not come home.
Off of her vitamin cocktail and other medications carefully prescribed to manage her mitochondrial disease, Justina’s health visibly deteriorated. While BCH put out a press release claiming that they were “pleased with her progress” under their care, Justina was swollen, cognitively regressed, and unable to function out of a wheelchair. Red lines, suggesting sepsis, were visible on her abdomen emanating from a neglected port, implanted to flush her colon.
Boston Children’s discharged Justina at last to a non-medical, short-term facility in Framingham, Mass., called Wayside. There, the Connecticut family visited for an hour a week under the supervision of armed guards until Judge Johnston gave permanent custody of Justina to the state of Massachusetts, without the Pelletiers even being investigated. The visits were stopped completely, and then were mysteriously and unexpectedly restored.
America’s Sweetheart is living in suspended animation separated from everything she loves and everyone whom she loves, for no reason other than institutional corruption, and her very life hangs in the balance. Her precious youth has been stolen from both Justina, and her family. I only wish I could say that this is the first time I have seen Psychiatry function to support corrupt institutions, but I see this every day in my work for PsychRights.
Justina’s father has been inundated with heart-wrenching appeals from a deluge of parents sharing their similar stories from all over the country, and Lou has left no stone unturned trying to save his daughter’s life. He understands that Justina has become the poster child to American parents who know that they are in danger of losing their children to trigger-happy social workers and mental health professionals who apparently have no accountability whatsoever to the public, no discernable oversight, and financial incentives for each child removed from his or her home.
“Recent Findings; Up to 50% of patients in pediatric care will complain of medically unexplained symptoms with significant functional and emotional impairment. Such patients place heavy burdens on the healthcare system (frequent utilization of health resources and hospitalizations, specialist consultations, unnecessary investigation, and treatments). Somatoform disorders in pediatric care are associated with risks for psychiatric co-morbidity (anxiety and depressive disorders), family conflict, parent-perceived ill health, and school absenteeism.”
This pithy paragraph is so frightening, I hardly know where to begin. Deconstructing it, IF up to 50% of pediatric admissions are psychosomatic, then it follows that from any parent’s perspective, when they take their child for a medical admission (or even to the ER) their child could be involuntarily admitted for psychiatric “treatment’ – just as has been done to Justina.
Dr. Bujoreanu’s claim that “such patients place heavy burdens on the health care system” is belied by the facts of Justina’s case. For fourteen months now, medicaid has most likely been paying for the state of Massachusetts’ exorbitant hospital and Wayside bill. They have paid for a secret visit to Dr. Korson at Tufts (for the disease she has made up?) They have payed for an emergency room visit at U. Mass. They are paying for armed guards. The new Murphy Bill in Congress, authored by Congressman Dr. Tim Murphy (a psychologist), will undoubtedly expand this money pit into a black hole.
“Somatoform disorders are associated with high risks of psychiatric co-morbidity (anxiety and depressive disorders).”
Would it not be perfectly normal for anyone in Justina’s shoes to become depressed and anxious separated from her loved ones, being told her condition is all in her head, and being denied medical treatment?
Lastly, if Dr. Bujoreanu is saying 50% of pediatric cases are psychosomatic, and most of us know that these diagnoses are subjective, it seems reasonable to extrapolate that at LEAST 50% of diagnoses are incorrect. Columbia University reported that their invention, “TeenScreen
,” produced an 80% false positive rate for diagnosing, and yet the effort to impose school screening marches on based on TeenScreen. In the Rosenhan experiments
, it was beautifully illustrated that in the eyes of psychiatry everything is a mental illness, including hearing the sound “Thud”.
So, here is the more important question. How reliable are psychiatric diagnoses to begin with? There are no objective measures, and not one shred of medical evidence to support them. Psychiatry offers only “Spectral Evidence
” (a term from the Salem Witch Trials). Someone accuses someone, the evidence is invisible, but the accusation is accepted as truth.
The Director of The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH; a government agency) has declared publicly that psychiatry’s “Bible”, the DSM, is “lacking in validity”. He went on to say in his blog “Transforming Diagnosis
” that “psychiatric patients deserve better” and announced a multi-billion dollar research project that will no longer fund research unless it is “cross category” – completely disregarding the existing diagnoses. Is Justina Pelletier being accused of something that no longer exists?
It is certain, and medically documented, that Justina suffers from mitochondrial disease, so it is clear to everyone who knows the facts of her case that she does not have somatoform disorder. My question is; does somatoform disorder even exist? I look back at fads of the past. Drapetomania
was a mental illness that runaway slaves had. The cure was severe: brutal whipping. Homesexuality was grounds for institutional commitment until 1972 when it, miraculously, was no longer a mental illness. These diagnoses are literally voted in and out of existence.
In the seventies and eighties, many people were brainwashed by therapists into believing they had “lost memories” of childhood sexual abuse that they later realized were prompted by the power of suggestion (and reinforced in a drugged or even hypnotized state). Today, Psychiatric Times regularly discusses the over – diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I, myself was told I had “bipolar disorder” because I had an adverse reaction to an antidepressant, a reaction later listed as a side-effect of the drug. Aspergers has been cancelled.
Since the publication of the latest addition of the DSM, grieving the loss of a loved one for over two weeks constitutes a mental disorder. Now 50% of children are making things up and this is a mental disorder requiring inpatient “treatment” and removal of custody from families?
Justina Pelletier was a well-adjusted teen who was living with her health challenges gracefully, and with admirable determination. She has a close family who has always supported her success. They will never give up fighting to bring her home where she belongs.. She should be home right now on a Sunday afternoon, after church, playing with her dogs, and texting “omg” and “lmao” to her friends. She ought to be thinking about what girls her age are thinking about; school, friends, sports, fashion, first kisses and proms. Instead she is wondering why this is happening to her, and trying to deal with torture.
Jennifer Pelletier wrote on the family’s facebook page “A Miracle for Justina
” (which has almost forty thousand “Likes”) this description of Justina’s situation;
“Today marks 14 months of Justina being in Boston. I can’t believe that this is still going on, and that this even happened! I am so disgusted with the lack of humanity in the state of Massachusetts!! Governor Patrick, your state is a disgrace!! I can’t believe how people can treat a kid and her family! My little sister has had all her rights taken away for no reason!! A prisoner has more rights than my sister! Now she finally gets to talk to her friends, and dcf picked only 4 friends from her list, and she only gets to have a ten minute supervised call! Also, she finally got to see Dr. Korson..he wants to see her every 1-2 weeks and Dcd won’t let her go back for 6-9 weeks!!! When she saw him, a Wayside employee was in with her during the appointment!! Wayside should be ashamed that they have lowered themselves to be a part of this!! I am disgusted to hear from my sister that they have laughed at her for not being able to walk!! Disgusting! How about maybe looking into the reason she lost her ability to walk.. why her legs are swollen.. why they are cold..why she can’t feel from her hips down??!!! How can ANY of these people involved sleep at night?? This is her life and her body!! Stop destroying my sister’s life!!! I will not let my sister be another number in the system!!!”
One of the reasons Justina is currently a “number in the system” is because this is happening in increasing numbers. Many people are calling this a “parent-ectomy.” Boston Children’s somatoform child abduction behavior is just the tip of the iceberg for Mass DCF, which is currently rumored to be missing 134 children. A five-year-old boy is presumed dead according to state officials.
Phil Hickey PhD (Psychology) wrote on Mad In America
about a gag order that was placed on Lou Pelleteir (later rescinded, after Lou’s national broadcasts resulted in both public outrage and high profile new legal assistance). One of my favorite bloggers, Hickey wrote;
“Our legislative and legal systems have been hoodwinked by psychiatry for too long. The right to free speech is our most fundamental freedom. The fact that a state court would so cavalierly suspend such a right to promote the agenda of BCH’s psychiatry department suggests a measure of partiality on the part of the court in an area where the child’s welfare ought to be the paramount consideration”.
Today a protest took place at Wayside. It’s Palm Sunday. People are waving palms as I write. Many other events are being planned. One event I am helping to organize for PsychRights
in conjunction with MindFreedom International
is only weeks away. In New York City, the American Psychiatric Association will be convening its annual convention. On May 4th
the protest will take place. Details for this event can be found on facebook
We at PsychRights believe that a very large gathering of people would be a fitting addition to the APA Convention. I, personally, believe that America’s Sweetheart might be proud, if she knew. I hope she feels the love and prayers pouring out to her from all over America (and even abroad). If she knew, it might give her hope, and she needs hope right now.
Getting Justina home to her family and her doctors is going to take more than clicking on internet petitions and calling politicians” offices. It’s going to take from all of us the courage to reach outside our comfort zones. Extraordinary things must be done to save this extraordinary girl.
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.