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Clash with doctors should not shut parents out of process

Re “Teen in custody battle to be moved” (Page A1, Jan. 11): The Globe’s report on the Justina Pelletier case is careful and unbiased. The trouble is that sometimes unbiased is not the right approach.

Because Pelletier’s parents have “a long history of clashing with providers over their daughter’s care,” to bring her home they will have to abide by a “code of conduct,” as requested by the court.

It is every patient’s right to clash with providers and to question doctors’ conclusions, even repeatedly, even if doctors find their approach unpleasant.

Do parents have an obligation to be compliant with a doctor’s wishes? No, and this case exists because of confusion about that.

Until parents’ medical decisions pose a clear threat to a child, no doctor and no court has the authority to question parents’ own authority to make medical decisions for their children. No threat is “clear” when providers are divided about its existence, as Pelletier’s doctors certainly were when the state Department of Children and Families took custody.


Doctors often assume that the ethical rules are different when patients are considered for somatoform disorder, as in Pelletier’s case. Only public outrage can correct this dangerous mistake.

Diane O’Leary
Executive director
The Coalition for
Diagnostic Rights
Columbia, Md.