America’s Sweetheart

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.

In an abstract for an article Dr. Bujoreanu co-authored titled “Approach to Psychosomatic Illness in Adolescents” the following paragraph appears:
“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.


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  1. Anyone who hasn’t seen “The Changeling” might want to see it now. This story of “somatoform disorder” and the ability of the psyche ward to commandeer a child, deny a medical diagnosis and treatment, and vilify parents on no sound evidence, whatsoever, is both outrageous and unbelievable, but a clear warning bell about the unchecked powers of psychiatry.

    “…does somatoform disorder even exist?” It does now. It appears to me that this case is so important to the ones making it because somatoform disorder is a new diagnosis and oh what a lucrative diagnosis it can be— psychiatrists can rip patients right out from under medical doctors with this diagnosis. Justina is their exhibit A, and they’ve really mucked this one up, so instead of surrendering to the expertise of a real doctor, they are going to absurd lengths to insist that they were right all along.

    “Up to 50% of patients in pediatric care will complain of medically unexplained symptoms with significant functional and emotional impairment. ”

    Pbthht. If someone gets an upset stomach before a big exam are they suffering symptoms of “somatoform disorder”? While being a caregiver for a transplant candidate, I saw him pass out and go into a near comatose state after talking to his ex-wife on the phone. His condition made it difficult for his body to deal with the physical effects of stress in his body. My job was to make his life less stressful so he could live until the transplant. Cognition is embodied— stress is not just psychological ephemera floating weightless in our heads, it’s a physical reality. Repeated stresses can cause physical dysfunction.

    Had I made the mistake of explaining what I was feeling before I couldn’t walk and was then examined and given an MRI and a subsequent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, I would have been put on all kinds of antidepressants and antispychotics, and what not that would have only made me feel worse. I had learned the hard way and so spared myself. My mood was fine. My outlook was fine. I had no energy sometimes and was a damned good sport about it. I have to wonder what percentage of psychiatrists can tell the differences between depression, exhaustion, fatigue, the depletion of an iron deficiency, the mental sluggishness of hepatic encephalopathy, etc. It doesn’t appear that they make any effort to delineate or to question much of anything anymore. Not only have they forgotten psychology—a field that has a lot of impressive research behind it and impressive insight into the human mind— they appear to have forgotten the body as well.

    The bad play of injustice in the lives of Justina and her family is stultifying, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most people will think this is an isolated and extreme incident, but it’s a symptom of a much larger disorder of three authoritarian institutions without sufficient checks and balances, riding roughshod over the civil rights of people whose day in court is a gag order.

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  2. Nancy, a beautifully written article. Thank you. I am glad that freeing Justina will be part of our demands at the May 4 protest of the American Psychiatric Association in New York. And I think we should do everything we can to bring this example of psychiatry’s power grab to the attention of the American public.

    Everyone is at risk now, everyone in our society, of having psychiatrists ruin their lives.

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  3. Excuse me but I thought the Germans had a monopoly on this sort of thing. What happened? As I recall the Germans were accused of doing bad things medically to people, but this story you relate could be projected back to Nazi Germany and fit in just fine in someone’s Holocaust memoir. I guess it just goes to show that history does repeat itself and sometimes continually.
    Once again we see the court stepping in because someone behind the scenes has power and perhaps money for the right court decision. Instead of attorneys struggling to bring forth justice, we just have a judiciary vending machine. Pick out what you want and insert lots of big bills–unmarked of course.

    This is really sad and tragic. The girl was held as a prisoner in a pretty bad environment to what? keep her safe from bad parents? Was she suicidal? This is so extreme as to be hard to grasp. Really this should be America in at least the pre-WWII times. The 1930’s–two wealthy families fighting over a grandchild having eliminated the mother somehow after the father disappeared. The child now in the custody of a private hospital where a doctor who has been following developments in Europe decides to experiment and see what will happen. Etc. Too dreadful even for fiction.

    I believe Alan Dershowiz has offered pro bono assistance. Hopefully the legal team will resolve this quickly. The judge needs to be incarcerated along with the doctor so that they can both experience the joys of enclosure. We have become a little too soft on these important types. Oh, and they should be sued for all they have. It won’t compensate for lost years but it might help a bit.

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    • No reason to go back to Nazi Germany, AgniYoga, because it will just lead you right back to the U.S. which had been steeped in eugenics since 1907. Sad, but true, we inspired Hitler to murder people labeled as schizophrenic and a whole lot of other unfortunate peoples who the status quo felt superior to and were sure would reproduce their ailments or shortcomings without fail to the detriment of the human race.

      The fact that not too long after every person with schizophrenia the Nazis could get their hands on were systematically “exterminated,” the population of people with schizophrenia in Germany was about the same percentage of the population, should have made it absolutely clear that schizophrenia was not inherited like eye color, but the genetic “explanation” still stands as if it had sturdy legs to stand on.

      I think I summarized it well enough and have a link to a pdf with that post, if you’re interested. A lot of those Nazi scientists came here to set up shop after the war and to keep the eugenic bandwagon rolling.

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    • All the states have the right to take a child out of their parent’s custody, and that often saves lives; but THIS is something else. Where are the medical doctors and specialists in mitochondrial disease? They’ve been gagged too? How is it that a psychiatrist gets to over rule a medical doctor who is a specialist in a rare disorder who has successfully treated the patient and the patient’s sister for years?

      It’s hard to tell whose spell needs to be broken.

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      • “How is it that a psychiatrist gets to rule over a medical doctor …?” The psychiatrists cover up the easily recognized medical mistakes for the medical doctors, and they can defame, discredit, and turn any healthy person into a lifelong “mental” patient with their drugs – even doctors. So the neo-Nazi psychiatrists are in charge.

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  4. Nancy, thanks so much for this beautifully written article on behalf of Justina and her family! I wish this could appear on the front page of every newspaper in the country. I will certainly be posting it to my Facebook timeline. Is is going to take a million people surrounding the Massachusetts capitol and refusing to leave until Justina is freed to end this Stalinesque nightmare?

    I’ve called the Governor’s Office (Deval Patrick) twice already, asking that he intervene to restore Justina’s civil rights. I urge anyone reading this to contact him at the following:

    Phone: 617.725.4005
    888.870.7770 (in state)
    Fax: 617.727.9725
    TTY: 617.727.3666

    I also contacted the Interim Commission of Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families, Olga I. Roche. Please call her office about this: 617-748-2000

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  5. …oh, and get a load of this, straight from Massachusett’s DCF website:

    “Supporting Children, Strengthening Families.”

    DCF Core Values

    The DCF Core Values are anchors that ground our practice. DCF is committed to making these values more than words on paper. By strengthening the links between the Department, families and communities, DCF will move closer to service delivery systems that reflect the core values:

    Committed to Diversity and Cultural Competence
    Committed to Continuous Learning


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  6. Could the right-wing Christians / tea party movement please stop abusing Justina Pelletier for their propaganda.

    “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.”

    How do you know how Justina feels about her parents?

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    • Oli,

      As a flaming liberal who normally despises the right wingers, I am glad they got involved in this case, no matter what their motivation was. Because if they hadn’t, everything wouldn’t be out in the open since the left wasn’t doing a darned things.

      Well, we don’t know how Justina feels about her parents but we also know she didn’t want to be locked up in a psych ward and away from school.

      “”In April, doctors told Justina that she was being transferred to Bader 5 — the hospital’s psychiatric ward that focuses on the treatment of seriously troubled children who may pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.

      Her new home would be a private room in the 16-bed, fifth-floor unit at the northern end of the hospital. On Bader 5, the entry doors are locked at all times and sharp objects are prohibited. The days are regimented, with set times for wake-up and lights-out as well as tutoring sessions and communal meals.

      Justina, the mild-mannered teen known for her sweet smiles, furiously resisted the move.

      “She was visibly upset, stating she refused to go,” a clinician in the psychiatry unit wrote in the hospital record on April 9. “She stated she wanted to speak to her lawyer.”

      Justina, who was desperate to return to school even if she was unable to walk, repeatedly told the Children’s team that she did not want to go into this ward. But, the record noted, she was informed that “she was not able to make this choice.”

      Choices about her future were now in the hands of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.””

      No matter what you feel about the case, her rights have been violated big time. Sadly, the MA Democratic politicians don’t seem to give a damm.

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  7. Alan Dershowitz is a right-winger, but that doesn’t change the fact that this whole affair is cock-eyed and a blatant injustice. If he can fight for them and win, I support him. Few people are so ideologically blinkered that they aren’t right sometimes in their hearts and their minds, and he is a very experienced and high-profile lawyer. This story can use as much attention as it can get and it would be a further injustice if Fox news was the only news program willing to follow this it.

    The coverage from the Boston Globe is some of the best journalistic writing I’ve seen in ages.

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    • I’m pretty much on the same page as you on this issue and many others here on MIA, Wiley, and I applaud Dershowitz for taking the stand he has on this and offering his services pro bono. However, there’s no way he’s a “right winger”!! Here’s how he describes himself: “I am a centralist liberal, and I get along very well with centralist conservatives. What I don’t like are extremists on either side…”

      I’ll make no bones about the fact that I’m generally on what would be considered the “conservative” side of many issues. However, if Justina’s case were being championed by the most liberal group imaginable, that would not at all deter me from joining them in decrying the blatant injustice being perpetrated on Justina and her family. Actually, I’m somewhat hopeful this case may illustrate there can be “common ground” and civil discourse between people across the wide political spectrum in our current world.

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      • Exactly!! We need to get over this “liberal-conservative” split that we’re being fed by the vote-buying corporate greed-mongers and corrupt politicos who are running the show. I think that genuine liberal and conservative people can come together on issues involving corporate malfeasance and influence peddling as well as violation of civil rights by the government and other groups.

        I think the real divide is between those who support the power of the exploiters over the exploited vs. those who are fighting for the rights of individuals against those who would exploit them. There are “liberals” and “conservatives” in both groups – some liberals believe the government is helping by enforcing treatment, and some conservatives believe that drug companies should be able to market and sell whatever they want with no regulation by the government at all. But a good number of either political persuasion would agree that this action is a horrible travesty of injustice and institutionalized insanity.

        I want us to join together with those who believe human rights come first, regardless of their political party or affiliation. Situations like Justina Pelletier should transcend any such differences and clarify the moral imperatives that can help us move forward as a country despite differences in philosophical viewpoint.

        —- Steve

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  8. Way to go, Nancy! Great article! No child or family member aught to be subjected to this abuse by psychiatry which has infiltrated every sector of our society. This abuse and splitting families apart is ongoing in this country with the elderly, our children and people of disability, something that I wrote about seven years ago and it is getting worse.

    Is this legalized genocide? Is it any different than the holocaust in WWII? Is this any different than the Crucifixion? Is this history repeating itself because people never got it right from the beginning?

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