Every so often, I’ll have nightmares about my children being taken away from me and there is nothing that I do can get them back. The forces that are keeping me from my children are far too powerful to negotiate with. I can see my children, and I can hear their screams and cries for me to save them, but I’m powerless to do anything. I awaken with wracking sobs, and it takes me a few minutes to convince my sleep conscience that it was all a bad dream and that my children are safe with me.
That is, until I read about stories such as the case of one Connecticut teenager Justina Pelletier. Justina, according to her physician, suffers from mitochondrial disease, a rare metabolic disorder that causes extreme fatigue and a host of other symptoms affecting, among others, one’s eyesight, digestion, and muscular strength.
In February 2013, the Pelletiers, upon the recommendation of Justina’s doctor, rushed her via ambulance to Boston Children’s Hospital. The decision to go to Boston Children’s Hospital was based upon this doctor’s recommendation to have Justina seen by a certain gastroenterologist who had just moved from Tufts Medical Center, also in Boston, to Boston Children’s Hospital.
It was a decision that resulted in the Pelletiers’ losing custody of their daughter and the beginning of their nightmare.
To make a long and tragic story short, Linda and Lou Pelletier, Justina’s parents, lost custody of their daughter because Massachusetts child-protection officials acted upon the recommendations of doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital who diagnosed the teenager with a mental disorder, disregarding her earlier diagnosis of mitochondrial disease. The Pelletiers, the parents of this child and probably (I’m only guessing here) the people who know her best, disagreed with Boston Children’s about Justina’s diagnosis and care, so they did what any responsible adult–parent or not–would do: They sought a second opinion. And for that subversive behavior, they were separated from their daughter. She was fourteen at the time.
When my daughters were fourteen, I used to toss and turn all night worrying when they would go to a friend’s for a sleepover.
You can read all about the case; however, the point that I am desperate to make is this: Since when does the State (or in Massachusetts’ case the ‘Commonwealth’) or any agency, entity, or organization know what is better for a child than the child’s parents?
Oh, I know–believe me, I know and have been privy to several cases of parental abuse, neglect, Munchausen Syndrome, you name it. I was a teacher, and I saw that all the time. However, I never tried to substitute my beliefs or judgment over those of a parent. What right did I have to tell a parent what is best for their child?
Just for fun, let’s look back in history at some other instances where “the State” has sought to overrule a parent’s judgment. There was the infamous Hitler Youth movement where scores of German children were coerced into goose-stepping for Adolf, not to mention the obvious brainwashing happening to all those blond-haired blue-eyed kiddos. And how could we forget those highly competitive Soviets who would send emissaries into a school in order to pick out future athletes to exploit and take them to a training facility far away from their parents? Okay, at least they got to go to the Olympics eventually, if they didn’t end up in the salt mines of Siberia. And there exists, even today, the numerous cases of child trafficking resulting in forced labor or sexual exploitation–state sanctioned? Not directly, but then again, every time you buy a pair of Nikes, think about the country where those cool-looking kicks were made and little hands that made them.
“But Kelly,” you might be saying, “that’s over and done with, and that pesky child trafficking problem? That only happens in third world countries–not here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.”
Justina Pelletier, the now sixteen year-old daughter of Lou and Linda Pelletier, who has been in custody since February 2013, remains in the custody of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts–not because her parents abused her, not because she reported that her family was neglecting her, and not because she showed up at school with a wicked case of head lice and smelling like pee. She remains in custody because of a hunch.
While in some parallel universe it may be true that Lou and Linda Pelletier have somehow sabotaged Justina’s health, why remove her from her home? Would it not make more sense to return her to her parents under some kind of supervision? Some follow-up care? An agreement whereby she is seen by a psychiatrist to rule out mitochondrial disease? No, that wouldn’t do because then several state workers would be out of a job–social workers, judges, state-sanctioned “experts”. The big bully wins this round, and knowing that the Pelletiers are not a family of means (read: litigation-happy), the state sentenced Justina to the psychiatric floor at Boston Children’s. Her parents had limited visitation rights. And that’s where I would have come completely unglued and quite possibly hurt somebody.
Today, nearly a year and a half later, Justina remains in state custody in a residential facility for troubled adolescents in Connecticut, 90 minutes from her home. She has made repeated pleas to be returned to her parents, an altogether opposite response from what one would expect from an abused child. As a result of their advocating for their daughter, Lou and Linda Pelletier have been branded as difficult and combative.
Difficult? Combative? I’d say they’ve shown remarkable restraint. I can’t say with all certainty that if my child was being held against her will and against the will of my husband and me that there wouldn’t be somebody leaving the courtroom in a body bag.
Only in the Soviet Union America.