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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

MINI POST MEGA ALERT: Justina Pelletier Goes Home

Well, it only took 16 months.  Justina Pelletier, the 16-year-old who spent much of last year in a locked psychiatric ward while her parents and a hospital argued over her diagnosis, is going home today.  The judge responsible for her case, Joseph Johnston, wrote Tuesday that “I find that the parties have shown by credible evidence that circumstances have changed since the adjudication on Dec. 20, 2013, that Justina is a child in need of care and protection pursuant to G.L. c. 199, 24-26...Effective Wednesday, June 18, 2014, this care and protection petition is dismissed and custody of Justina is returned to her parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier.” 

This is about a 180-degree reversal from March, where the same judge wrote that Justina needed to remain in state custody "due to the conduct and inability of her parents, Linda Pelletier and Lou Pelletier, to provide for Justina’s necessary and proper physical, mental, and emotional development."  In that ruling, the judge stated that Justina's parents "continue to engage in very concerning conduct that does not give this court any confidence they will comply with conditions of custody.” 

So which ruling was bullshit, the March one or the one from yesterday?  For the moment it may not matter; after all, the kid's going home, which is what everybody involved claimed to want (except for maybe the psychologist at the hospital that reported the family to the authorities in the first place; Dr. Simona Bujoreanu has been involved in five other, similar cases in the last 18 months).  Justina's family fought the system every step of the way, and the fight wasn't cheap; I shudder to think about the legal bills, to say  nothing of the incidentals - hotel bills, gas money, putting lives and careers on hold.  What if her family hadn't had that kind of money, or that kind of stamina? What's more, what if Justina was African-American or Latina and came from a poor family?  Well, then, folks, we never would have heard of her.  She'd have disappeared into that locked-down psychiatric unit until her eighteenth birthday, if she lived that long, or vanished into foster care, never to be heard from again.  The Massachusetts authorities didn't suddenly change their minds about Justina and her family.  They were simply worn down from the publicity and the growing pressure, both from protesters, writers and activists and from Massachusetts politicians, who had already passed a resolution demanding that Justina be allowed to return home and were considering passing a law to force that to happen.

Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  If you don't have the right to be free of constraints on your person (like, say, being locked up when you haven't done anything wrong) when you're a kid, then you don't have it as a grown-up, either. Witness the hue and cry for laws allowing the involuntary detention of mentally ill people every time there's a mass shooting.  (Wow. I just typed "every time there's a mass shooting."  Think about that.)  If you don't have the right, as a parent, to decide what doctor to take your children to in Massachusetts, then you don't have it in Texas or New York  or California.   

We'll have more on this later of course--several lawsuits are pending, including a Federal case for false imprisonment. But for now, welcome home, kiddo.  I hope the party never ends. 

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