When are Anonymous, Glenn Beck, and Scientologists on the same side? When they’re taking up the cause of Justina Pelletier. The 15-year-old with hard-to-diagnose medical problems was taken from her parents’ custody more than a year ago, after Boston Children’s Hospital doctors said her symptoms were largely psychological. The hospital accused her parents of medical child abuse. A juvenile court judge agreed. It’s one family’s saga, but to a broad group of outsiders, Justina’s story has become something more: a symbol of what happens when parental rights collide with institutional power.
Now, a range of groups with disconnected agendas — from protection of the unborn to awareness of Lyme disease — have rallied, separately, behind the “Free Justina” banner. This sometimes happens in a high-profile medical case. When Terri Schiavo languished, comatose, in a Florida hospital a decade ago, she was fodder for Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, Christian conservatives, advocates for the disabled, and thousands of onlookers who found that her predicament fit perfectly into their personal agendas.
Justina Pelletier is very much alive. But she’s just as much of an abstraction to many of her self-appointed champions. The ragged coalition means well, for the most part. It knows how to capitalize on a cause celebre. But will all of this attention secure a better fate for Justina herself?
What follows is a partial list of players in the Pelletier case: The local institutions that supported her removal from her parents’ custody, and the many outside players that have rallied to return her home. Some of these groups have logical connections. Some are the strangest of bedfellows. Explore what they’ve said about Justina – and, in some cases, about each other.