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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