Complex Cases Of ‘Parent-Ectomy,’ From New Yorker To Boston Globe

(An EPA photo, 1973, via Wikimedia Commons.)

(An EPA photo, 1973, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Is this a trend? A pendulum swinging? First came the heartbreaking story in the Dec. 2 New Yorker magazine of a single mother who left her three-year-old son alone in his crib one day to go to work, and lost custody of him — never to regain it again, no matter how she tried. It’s headlined ‘Where Is Your Mother?‘  I read every word with mounting horror as it became ever clearer that in the wake of her one mistake — admittedly a very bad one — and her inability to persuade the legal system to give him back to her, Niveen Ismail would lose her beloved son forever.

Now, the Boston Globe is running an investigation into cases of “medical child abuse” — in which parents are accused of hurting their children through medical interventions and can lose custody if they are ruled a threat. The Globe’s story focuses on a dispute between Boston Children’s Hospital staffers and a West Hartford couple, Linda and Lou Pelletier, whose 15-year-old daughter, Justina, has been hospitalized at Children’s for months. I read every word of this one, too, admiring the reporters for wading into a very contentious tale, and imagining the pain of parents deprived of contact with a very sick child. Then I got a shock at the end of today’s story: The case is still live, its ending unclear, a decision expected soon: From today’s story, Frustration On All Fronts In Struggle Over Child’s Future:

In the bitter cold of last Thursday morning, on the final day of the trial to determine Linda and Lou Pelletier’s fitness as parents, Juvenile Judge Johnston prepared to hear testimony from the witness at the center of it all. Justina was wheeled into the fourth-floor courtroom of the Edward Brooke Courthouse in Boston.
For the first time in this protracted case, the 15-year-old girl appeared in a courtroom to weigh in on her own future. Improbably, her hospitalization had consumed almost an entire year of her life.

A gag order prohibited any of the parties from disclosing what anyone said on the stand. The judge is expected to issue his ruling as early as Friday on whether Justina will be returned to her parents.

The Globe comments after the piece are fascinating. They range from a warning to doctors not to fall in love with particular diagnoses, to this reminder, which will long linger in my mind: “Parents should learn early on that when dealing with schools, neighbors, doctors, the police, etc., a measured and reasonable tone is often more important than anything they say.”

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  • Bharani Padmanabhan MD PhD

    Given that the parents have had their human rights violated and their child kidnapped for 11 months (with ZERO to show for it), blaming their tone of voice is no different at all from blaming women for getting raped.

    It is absolutely horrible of WBUR to concur with a reader comment (“Parents should learn early on that when dealing with schools, neighbors, doctors, the police, etc., a measured and reasonable tone is often more important than anything they say.”) which totally flies in the face of the inalienable rights of citizens of a constitutional republic. These parents are not living in some monarchy where obeisance must be paid.

    Telling Children’s Hospital that the taxpayer will NOT pay for a single day of this 11-month kidnapping will return the child to her parents promptly.

    • Believer in Good Government

      I totally understand why the parents would act obnoxious when their child is taken away from their care. Who could remain CALM at such a time??? I’d be furious as well as threatened to my core, and they’d probably want to sedate me.

  • ElliFrank

    Why isn’t WBUR doing more to cover this story? It is not only about this one family, but about many families whose disagreements with doctors’ and other health providers’ opinions leads to a loss (or threatened loss) of child custody. The unfettered power and control wielded by Children’s Hospital Boston is hurting families and children. I just find it very strange that WBUR seems to be avoiding this story.

  • Jane

    Time for the medical community to treat their patients’ needs and opinions with genuine respect. They need to truly listen, particularly when it comes to pediatric cases. An adult patient is his/her own advocate, but a sick child’s first and most vital advocate must be the parent. And there is no more desperate advocate for a sick child than a parent who is being overlooked or ignored.