A state appeals court judge Monday declined to dismiss civil rights counts against Boston Children’s Hospital in the medical malpractice case brought by Justina Pelletier and her parents, clearing the way for jury selection to begin Tuesday in Suffolk County Superior Court.
Justina, now 21, and her parents accuse Children’s and its providers of ignoring in 2013 the treatment advice of her doctors at Tufts Medical Center, where Justina was being treated for mitochondrial disease, a group of rare genetic disorders that affects how cells produce energy.
The family also accuses the hospital and its providers of violating their civil rights by barring the Pelletiers from seeing their daughter, and by warning the state would take custody of Justinaif they didn’t consent to the doctors’ treatment plan.
The Connecticut teen’s odyssey at Children’s ignited a firestorm about whether medical professionals should override parental rights when there is a dispute over treatment of a complex illness.
Appellate Court Associate Justice Peter W. Agnes, Jr. ruled Monday that Children’s “failed to establish a compelling reason” for him to review or dismiss the civil rights claims against the hospital.
Agnes also denied Children’s request to delay the trial, pending a review of the civil rights claims. Children’s had stated in an emergency petition to the court late last week that Suffolk Superior Court Associate Justice Anthony M. Campo may have “committed an error of law or abused [his] discretion” in refusing to dismiss the civil rights counts against the hospital.
But Agnes disagreed.
“I discern no abuse of discretion or clear error of law warranting. . . relief” from the Appeals Court, he wrote.
Linda and Louis Pelletier, Justina’s parents, were accused by Children’s providers of medical child abuse during heated disagreements about the teenager’s care. The providers contacted the state’s child protection agency, the Department of Children and Families, which removed Justina from the Pelletiers. She ultimately spent nearly a year at Children’s, much of it in a locked psychiatric unit, as her parents and the hospital clashed over her care.
Justina had been rushed to Children’s after receiving treatment at Tufts Medical Center for mitochondrial disease, because her primary specialist at Tufts suggested she be seen by her longtime gastroenterologist, who had moved to Children’s.
But the Children’s doctors determined that Justina’s myriad health problems were largely psychiatric, and saw her parents’ refusal to cooperate as medical abuse.
The teen, whose condition did not significantly improve during her stay at Children’s, was ultimately returned to her parents 16 months later. The family filed a lawsuit against the hospital and its providers in 2016, but have largely been out of the limelight since.
The Children’s providers who are accused of negligence in the lawsuit are Dr. Jurriaan Peters, a neurologist; Simona Bujoreanu,a psychologist; and Dr. Colleen Ryan, a psychiatrist.
The suit also alleges negligence by Dr. Alice Newton, an outspoken pediatrician and child abuse specialist who has since left Children’s. Newton is now medical director of the Child Protection Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.