BOSTON—The family of a Connecticut teen who was involved in a more than yearlong, medical custody dispute in Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against Children’s Hospital in Boston.
The suit, announced Thursday, alleges the civil rights of Justina Pelletier of West Hartford and her parents, Louis and Linda Pelletier, were violated and they suffered extreme emotional distress after the hospital diagnosed Justina’s problems as psychiatric and the state took custody of her.
Justina, now 17, attended the announcement in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse in a wheelchair. Speaking in a quiet voice, she said she was treated badly during the ordeal.
“Just imagine being in a psych ward without needing to be in a psych ward,” Justina said. “I’m very angry, and I just don’t understand how this happened, and I really don’t want this to happen ever again to any other family.”
The case stems from dueling diagnoses. Tufts Medical Center in 2012 had treated Justina for mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder that affects cellular energy production. But Children’s Hospital later arrived at the psychiatric diagnosis.
When her parents rejected the second diagnosis and tried to take her back to Tufts, allegations of medical child abuse were raised against the Pelletiers, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families took custody of Justina.
She eventually was returned to the care of her parents in 2014 after first being transferred to a medical facility in Thompson, Connecticut.
Children’s Hospital said in a statement Thursday that it will defend its care of the teenager.
“Boston Children’s Hospital welcomes the opportunity to vigorously defend the medical care it provided to Justina Pelletier,” the hospital said. “We are committed to the best interests of our patients’ health and well-being, according to the high standards we follow for every patient placed in our care.”
The hospital said it was required by state law to report suspected cases of child maltreatment to the Department of Children and Families, and it was up to the child welfare agency to decide whether to seek temporary custody orders.
The state was not named in the lawsuit. Kathy Jo Cook, a Boston attorney representing the family, said DCF was acting on the advice of doctors when it sought custody of Justina.
The lawsuit, which also claims negligence and malpractice by several Children’s Hospital doctors, was filed in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston and seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The girl and her family endured nearly 18 months of “emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological suffering and pain,” according to the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, the director of the Christian Defense Coalition who said he was a spokesman for and spiritual adviser to the family.
Louis Pelletier said his daughter has had three surgeries since returning home but was improving and hoped to walk again. She was doing horseback riding as part of her therapy, he added.