Justina Pelletier’s former pediatrician never thought his patient was in danger of medical abuse by her parents, according to testimony Friday in Suffolk Superior Court in the Pelletiers’ lawsuit against Boston Children’s Hospital and four providers who treated her in 2013.
The Pelletiers, who clashed with Children’s providers over their daughter’s diagnosis and treatment, temporarily lost custody of their daughter, who spent nine months in a locked psychiatric ward at Children’s after doctors accused the couple of medical abuse and interfering with her treatment.
The Pelletiers are suing the hospital and the providers for allegedly violating their civil rights by telling them the state would take their daughter away if they resisted her doctors’ treatment plan and by barring them from seeing her. They also allege negligence by the four providers for treatment decisions that ignored plans put in place by her doctors at Tufts Medical Center.
Dr. Thomas Binder, Pelletier’s Connecticut pediatrician until 2012, did not appear in court, but lawyers read from a deposition he provided.
In that deposition, Binder said Pelletier experienced an increasing number of medical problems around 2010, when she was about 12 years old. He said he experienced difficulty in dealing with her often demanding parents.
Binder said a school nurse called him in May 2011 because Pelletier was often absent from school for medical reasons.
The school nurse asked him whether Connecticut’s child protective agency had been involved. But Binder, who as a pediatrician would be required to alert authorities if he suspected child abuse, said in his deposition he didn’t see a need to do that.
“I never had a situation where I felt she was in danger of serious abuse or neglect,” he told attorneys in the case, according to his deposition.
In November 2011 doctors treating Pelletier at Tufts Medical Center filed a report with Connecticut’s child protection agency alleging potential medical abuse by the Pelletiers because they were balking over a feeding tube for their daughter and fighting hospitalizing her for psychiatric treatment.
The next month, according to Binder’s deposition, as Connecticut’s child protective agency was investigating the Pelletiers, a child psychiatrist treating the girl called Binder and told him she thought the girl suffered from a somatoform disorder — a psychiatric illness that causes physical symptoms. The psychiatrist said she needed intensive inpatient psychiatric treatment, according to Binder’s deposition.
“I agreed her plan was a reasonable plan,” he said.
A couple of weeks later, in January 2012, Dr. Alejandro Flores, a gastroenterologist who had been treating Pelletier at Tufts Medical Center Floating Hospital for Children, also told Binder he suspected she suffered from a somatoform disorder, according to the deposition.
Flores is the specialist the Pelletiers planned to see when they rushed their daughter to Children’s Hospital in February 2013, at the suggestion of her Tufts doctors, because she was having trouble eating, walking, and talking.
But in a later e-mail, Flores told Pelletier’s lead doctor at Tufts, Dr. Mark Korson, that he was unable to see her because of “legal restrictions.”
It’s unclear what Flores meant, and lawyers for the Pelletiers and Children’s hospital clashed in court Friday over whether the jury should be allowed to see that e-mail.
The Pelletiers claim Children’s doctors who treated their daughter in 2013 shut Flores and Korson out of her care, but Children’s denies that.
Suffolk Superior Court Associate Justice Anthony M. Campo said he would consider allowing Flores’ e-mail to be shown to the jury if Flores testifies.