You guys, it's working.
It took a while for the media to pick up on the case of Justina Pelletier, a 15-year-old girl who was removed from her parents' custody by the state of Massachusetts last year because her parents were found "unfit" to monitor her medical care and were also accused of "medical child abuse." Justina then spent most of last year in a locked psychiatric ward. People, you don't spend a year in a locked psychiatric ward. It's expensive, for one thing, and it's only an appropriate placement for people who are actively suicidal (or homicidal). Once you stabilize, they send you to what's called the "least restrictive" placement, which is usually a day program, or home. If you take an entire year to stabilize from either of those states of mind, you are being treated by incompetent idiots. Or else they've decided to throw you away because you're too much trouble.
Either way, an appropriate setting for a 15-year-old girl who's very physically ill? For a year? Um, kinda NOT. So a bunch of bloggers like me, and lots of people on Twitter and Facebook,started sending angry letters and e-mails and stirred up enough interest in the case that the Boston Globe and other major media entities (empires?) started covering it. Lately some conservative Christian organizations have gotten involved because of what they see as the State trampling on parental rights to choose medical care. (Yeah, not my favorite people, but they have a lot of pull, and they can get a lot of protesters to show up, make phone calls, send angry letters, etc. As Swearingen from Deadwood would say, "I don't want to talk to these c*cksuckers, but you have to.") And letters were sent. Protests were mounted outside the courthouse on hearing days. A couple of Massachusetts state assemblypeople are sponsoring a "Free Justina" resolution. Glenn Beck even raised his voice. When the Judge, who had finally ordered Justina moved out of the psych ward and into a residential care center, then decided to place her in a foster care facility even farther away from her home in Connecticut, protesters showed up at the new facility, waving signs and making noise. And the facility, much to its credit, panicked and said it wouldn't take her. Which is what I mean by "You guys, it's working."
Well. Today, in its first official statement on the case, the state of Massachusetts announced that it is actively working to transfer Justina back to the state of Connecticut, and that the hospital of Justina's parents' choice, Tufts University Medical Center, will be in charge of her medical care from here on. Justina's not home yet, but I think we can take a victory lap anyway. Because this is good stuff. She's out of the psych ward, closer to home and there's some hope that she'll end up home full time, and soon. So thanks, everybody who sent a letter or an outraged email or made a phone call or sent ten bucks to Justina's parents or even posted about it on Twitter or Facebook. That's what it seems to take to fix problems like this. Noise. Lots of it.
But too much noise can be a bad thing, so I hesitate to suggest lots of noise every time something like this happens. (And, um, it happens a lot more than you'd like to think.) So for a story I'm kind of on the fence about, let's go up to the great state of Alaska, where another kid--though he's 27, which by definition would make him a fully autonomous adult--is in a similar situation. Bret Bohn, a hunter and mountain guide for other hunters, was taken to the hospital after suffering insomnia for over a week. At the hospital, his condition deteriorated and he became delirious. This is where things get interesting. His parents have durable power of attorney over his medical care. At the point where he became unable to make his own decisions, the hospital should have abided by their wishes, which were, among other things, that they cease treating him with high-test antipsychotics and come up with a diagnosis before they messed with his brain. Instead the hospital tosses them out, says they're a danger to his survival, calls Adult Protective Services and has the "kid" declared a ward of the state. The parents haven't been able to see him for months. Nobody knows how he's doing, though we can probably assume he's still alive.
A fifteen-year-old girl who might be a victim of child abuse, you can sort of see why the state might intervene, but a grown man and a professional mountain guide? A graduate from the U. of Alaska's Aviation and Technology Program? And the hospital thinks his parents are trying to kill him? This is just a weird story. I'd love to see some more noise, but I think we need some more FACTS first. Why is this "kid" still in the hospital, if it's not his choice to remain there? If it is, is he the one who doesn't want to see his parents, or did someone else make that call? It's generally illegal to medicate a person without his consent. If he's not consenting, who is, and why? Get on this, my friends in the frozen North. I can only do so much with Google, ya know. However, this has me concerned: “I think one of the takeaways is, this can really happen to anyone and people’s rights are regularly ignored when this sort of thing happens,” Jim Gottstein, a lawyer with the psychiatric rights law project Psych Rights, said. ”It’s kind of like their rights are ignored legally, like when the U.S. stole the land from the Indians fair and square."
Ouch. Seriously, Alaska: What's going on up there?