State offers plan on medical custody dispute

Justina Pelletier.
Justina Pelletier.

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts officials announced a plan Monday to return a teenager in a custody dispute involving different diagnoses by two hospitals to her home state of Connecticut to be closer to her family, but her family objected to it, calling it a “slap in the face.”

The plan calls for the 15-year-old, Justina Pelletier, to be transferred to a facility in Thompson, Connecticut, as the first step in a process that could eventually return her to the custody of her parents, said Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz.

The plan also calls on the family to meet certain conditions, including visiting with Justina at the Connecticut facility, participating in family therapy and meeting with Massachusetts child welfare officials to review her progress.

But the Pelletier family said Monday that they don’t accept the plan. They said they don’t want Justina sent to a behavioral unit and want a guarantee she’ll be returned home by her birthday.

“For us, it was another slap in the face, another kick in the stomach,” Justina’s father, Lou Pelletier, said at news conference outside the Massachusetts Statehouse on Monday after a meeting with Polanowicz. “Justina needs to be home for her 16th birthday” on May 24.

Polanowicz said he believes the plan is the “fastest pathway home” for Justina if all parties participate.

The cases hinges in part on dueling diagnoses of Justina’s condition.

Tufts Medical Center had treated Justina for mitochondrial disease, a disorder that affects cellular energy production. But Boston Children’s Hospital later diagnosed her problems as psychiatric.

When her parents rejected that diagnosis and tried to take her back to Tufts, the state Department of Children and Families took custody of Justina, prompting the ongoing dispute.

Justina will remain under the custody of state of Massachusetts after being transferred to the Connecticut facility. A Juvenile Court judge will have a final say on whether Justina should be returned to her family in West Hartford, about 50 miles from the facility.

Polanowicz said state officials are working to get Justina home as soon as possible.

“We’ll continue to work with the family,” he said. “We know there is a big date coming up for Justina and we’d love to have her home by that date.”

Lou Pelletier said the family is also launching additional court appeals in an effort to get his daughter out of state custody as quickly as possible.

The situation has garnered widespread interest, with Republican members of the Massachusetts Legislature weighing in on the case in support of the family.

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