Justina Pelletier’s mother collapsed and her father shouted in anger today after learning at a Boston courthouse that the Department of Children and Families wants to place their teenage daughter in foster care on Boston’s North Shore, according to a minister who represents the family.
The parents were also upset because they were told a gag order preventing them from talking to the media remains in place, said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian Defense Coalition, a group that is helping the family.
Linda Pelletier fainted in the corridor outside the Boston Juvenile Court and was taken away on a stretcher to a local hospital. Her husband, Lou Pelletier, occasionally erupted into angry shouts. Reporters were restricted from the fourth floor of the Brooke Courthouse, where a hearing on Justina’s case was held, but could see the Pelletiers from a fifth-floor balcony across the courthouse atrium.
Mahoney said the parents were reacting after emerging from the closed-door hearing, which had lasted about two hours.
Mahoney said late this afternoon that Linda Pelletier had recovered fairly well from her fainting episode, and was expected to be released from Massachusetts General Hospital sometime later today. Mahoney was spending the afternoon with the Pelletier family, who are from West Hartford, Conn.
Justina has been caught in the middle of a high-profile medical dispute and child custody battle involving two major Boston hospitals, the state’s child protection agency, and the Pelletiers, who want to bring their daughter home.
The Globe profiled the Pelletiers and the issues raised by the case in a two-part series.
One issue before the judge in today’s hearing was whether Lou Pelletier should be held in contempt of court for violating a gag order. The teen’s father has recently given media interviews in which he expressed frustration with the quality of care his daughter is getting while in DCF custody, care that he has asserted has been nearly fatal for her.
The Pelletiers’ primary attorney declined comment, citing the gag order.
Mahoney said the parents were deeply upset after being told Justina Pelletier would be sent into foster care, and away from a Framingham residential facility where she has been living for the past month.
Mahoney said he was working to help the Pelletiers win back custody of Justina.
Prior to the Framingham placement, Justina spent about a year in the locked psychiatric ward at Boston Children's Hospital despite the objections of her parents and in conflict with a diagnosis from Tufts Medical Center doctors that the teen suffered from mitochondrial disorder, the Globe has reported.
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a conservative nonprofit legal group, said he now represents the Pelletiers in their effort to end the gag order imposed by the judge. He said the DCF was given two days to tell the judge whether they oppose allowing Staver to enter the case.
Officials at MitoAction, a nonprofit group raising awareness about mitochondrial disease, a rare condition, released a statement saying they had heard that a Boston judge had ordered the teenager to go into a “non-medical” facility in Merrimac.
It remained unclear just what the judge proposed at the hearing. However, typically a teenager like Justina, if viewed as medically stable, might go to a private foster home while also being required to attend some nearby day treatment and educational program.
Patricia Wen can be reached at email@example.com.