Copyright © Bharani Padmanabhan MD PhD.
Used with permission
Conservative radio talk show host Jeff Kuhner put out a challenge to his audience. He challenged them to show up last weekend in support of the Pelletier family, and to provide their daughter Justina with a sweet 16 party that she’ll never forget.
By some accounts, only 2,000 people showed up at the rally at the Massachusetts state house. According to Kuhner, whose producer polled state police patrolling the peaceful rally, the actual head count may have been between 4,000 – 5,000.
Whatever the actual number may have been, it was a crowd sufficient to line the sidewalks on both sides of the street, and to spill over into neighboring blocks.
Jeff Kuhner played the role of master of ceremonies, and Comrade John, a regular caller of Kuhner’s popular radio show, was first among the lineup of speakers.
John began with an important admonishment to the crowd, saying: “This is not about party affiliation, religion, or race. This is about being an American. And, what is being done to Justina and her family is as un-American as it can get.”
He continued on to say that there are 136 other children known to be missing in DCF’s care, adding that “our thoughts and prayers go out with them and their families as well.”1
He spoke of how different things were when he was growing up. It was a time when parents were entrusted with the care of, and responsibility for, their own children.
“Well, today it’s the state that tells you how you can and can’t discipline your children. And now it’s gonna tell you – and your doctor – what’s best for you and your child, and if you don’t agree they’ll take your child from you.”
If they feel they can get away with this then what’s next? They’ll kick down your door and snatch your child from the dead of night? It’s not that far-fetched and I don’t feel it’s any different than what’s happened to Justina and her family already,” he said
He apparently touched a nerve with that comment, as at this point, the crowd spontaneously broke into a round of applause.
“Some people say we don’t need the government, but from what I remember, we’re the government – they’re the politicians. We don’t work for them, they’re supposed to work for us, not against us.”
Rev. Patrick Mahoney thereafter addressed the crowd, describing how Justina had deteriorated while in the state’s care. She’d gone from figure skating while in her parents’ care, to being bound in a wheel chair while in the care of the state. He added that Justina had not only been deprived of her right to attend religious services – which she had always attended while in the care of her family – but had also been deprived of her right to an education as well.
He continued on to explain that because of the level of popular support behind the family, promising things were starting to happen. On May 30th, there is a critical meeting set to be held between the Pelletiers, DCF, and the medical team, at which time a motion may be filed. If things go well, Mahoney said, there is the possibility Justina may be back in the arms of her loving family some time in early June.
“We must keep the pressure on, we cannot give up,” he emphasized. He encouraged the audience to continue to contact the Governor, DCF, and other officials on the family’s behalf.
On Wednesday, May 28, at 12 noon, another rally is planned at DCF headquarters at 600 Washington Street, to demand that Justina is returned to her family immediately, he said.
Kuhner introduced the next speaker as an “absolute warrior” on behalf of Justina, as well as on behalf of families throughout the state.
State Rep Jim Lyons addressed the crowd, beginning his address by handing 16 pink roses to the Pelletier family in honor of Justina’s 16th birthday.
Lyons did not mince words, saying that Governor Patrick and some other members of his administration had outright “lied” to the public about the details involving the Pelletier case. He went so far as to say that the Governor was hiding behind the court to justify his actions.
Rep Lyons congratulated Mr. Pelletier for his courage in coming forward with his family’s story. Lou and Linda Pelletier are examples of the kind parents who are unafraid to stand up against the state’s bureaucracy, he said.
Lyons added that if it wasn’t for Mr. Pelletier’s courage in standing up to what he described as a “faceless bureaucracy,” no one would know anything about what has been going on.
“Please keep up the fight, and thank you to Lou and Linda Pelletier for everything you’ve done,” he concluded, throwing a firm embrace around Mr. Pelletier.
Jeff Kuhner introduced Lou Pelletier saying that he could not imagine himself having to be faced with the situation the Pelletier’s found themselves in.
He said that if it was not for Lou Pelletier defying the gag order “slapped on him by that arrogant judge, nobody would know about Justina Pelletier today; she’d still be rotting at Boston Children’s Hospital.”
At this point the crowd burst into a chorus, repeatedly chanting: “Thank you Lou, thank you Lou . . . ”
Mr. Pelletier took to the podium holding a copy of the Constitution of the State of Massachusetts in his hand. He said that the Governor and other state officials should take some time to read it. According to Mr. Pelletier, the State’s Constitution grants the Governor the executive authority to release Justina immediately.
Mr. Pelletier – speaking with his daughter Jessica by his side – continued on to describe Boston Children’s Hospital’s role in the affair, emphasizing that the hospital was not the only one that is doing this.
“It’s happening across the country. Justina has become the lightning rod,” he said.
When Justina first entered the hospital expecting to see her designated specialist, he explained, she instead was greeted by a young neurologist on a Sunday morning at 4 AM. That young neurologist – Jurriaan Peters – told his wife Linda that “there’s no such thing as mitochondrial disease.”
A young psychologist – Simona Bujoreanu – barely 12 hours later had diagnosed Justina with somatoform, saying in effect that she was making it all up; that it was all in her head.
Mr. Pelletier demanded that she explain to the public at large that she’d written four papers on the subject of somatoform, one of them raising the claim that as many as 50 percent of the presenting child population entering emergency rooms may be suffering from somatoform disorder rather than genuine physical ailments.
Mr. Pelletier also questioned where director of psychiatry Dr. David DeMaso was, in light of his role of having developed the working definitions of somatoform in the medical literature.2
“If you want to find a disease, you’ll find it whether it exists or not. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong family,” Pelletier told the audience.
He spoke of how quite-nearly impossible his family’s battle had been, adding that: “If you’ve got heart, and you’ve got a legion behind you, nothing is impossible!”
The crowd once again broke into cheers.
Mr. Pelletier explained that he’d spent three days during the previous week in DC speaking with legislators, including John Larson, his Democratic representative. As it turned out, Larson himself had gone through much the same situation with his own son. If he wasn’t a Congressman, his son would have been taken away from him, Pelletier said.
He added that it seemed to him that the tide may be turning even in DC, with some Democrats coming to better understand the true nature of the problem given all of the publicity surrounding his family’s case.
“Unfortunately, Justina – as we’ve all found out – is the tip of the iceberg. It’s happening every day, in every state in this country. And, it could be your child, your child, or your child,” has said pointing his finger at various people in the audience to drive home his point.
“They can take your children, and there’s not a damn thing that you can do about it,” he said.
Mr. Pelletier went on to say that two things have to happen: Number one; “we’ve got to free Justina.” The audience at this point cheered in support, repeatedly chanting “Free Justina”
Number two, he said, should be that for every time a child presents with a medical illness, and someone comes along and says, “Oh, no-no-no-no, it’s not a medical illness, it’s in your head,” that person should lose their license. and do jail time.
“Too many kids have died from this nonsense,” he added with visible and righteous indignation.
In an appeal to growing populist sentiment, he closed out his speech by encouraging everyone to participate in taking the nation back from the hands of the politicians who have in effect taken it away from the people.
The next speaker was Les Gosule, who worked for years to have Melissa’s law passed by the Massachusetts legislature. He lost his daughter to a murder that many say should never have occurred.
The legislation – unceremoniously signed into law by Governor Patrick in late 2012 – provides a “three strikes” provision for certain violent offenders.
Mr. Gosule said that while it took the legislature only two days to pass an “upskirting” bill, with which he certainly agrees, it took him over 4,700 days to get his bill passed.
He explained that the lack of responsiveness on the part of the Massachusetts legislature to the needs of its constituency has long been an issue, and that the Pelletier family’s plight involving the Department of Children and Families was a reflection of that problem.
Mr. Gosule encouraged the audience to continue to stand behind the Pelletier family, and to demand transparency from the government.
“We the people,” he said, “deserve better.”
Conspicuous by their absence were the Governor, and other gubernatorial candidates, with the acceptation of Mark Fisher. Kuhner introduced him to the audience as someone that he has differences of opinion with, but called him an honorable man for stopping in to lend his voice to those of other supporters. Fisher promised the audience that this was not a campaign stop, and he kept his call for “common sense” among legislators short, and directly on point.
Several thousand people rallied in support of a young girl named Justina on her 16th birthday, and in support of her out-of-state family. That it happened at all is a remarkable thing. That it happened as well as it did, is even more remarkable. It is quite nearly miraculous.
That is, after all is said and done, all that the Pelletier family has been asking for.
A miracle for Justina.
1. The numbers may vary, but there is agreement that a significant number of children in state care cannot be accounted for. See Todd Wallack, “Hundreds may be missing in child welfare system,”Boston Globe, (February 27, 2014). This is not a new issue. It has always been this way. See for example The Lost Children, as written in 1998 before this became a known issue. To be sure, as a general rule, the states continue to bill the federal government for the care of their missing children.
2. David DeMaso’s long list of published articles include: “Promoting scholarship during child and adolescent psychiatry residency,” “Parent and Young Adult Satisfaction with Psychiatry Consultation Services in a Children’s Hospital,” “Depression subtypes in pediatric inflammatory bowel disease,” “Predictors of depression in youth with crohn disease,” and “Longitudinal results of cognitive behavioral treatment for youths with inflammatory bowel disease and depressive symptoms.” DeMaso has also co-authored at least five articles with Simona Bujoreanu.
3. The law removes the possibility of parole for certain repeat criminal offenders should they amass three convictions from a list of 46 violent crimes, while expanding parole eligibility for nonviolent drug offenders. See generally Brian R. Ballou, “‘Melissa’s bill’ signed in nearly private ceremony,” Boston Globe, (August 3, 2012).