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Diagnostic dispute in Pelletier case should be seen as resolved

The Globe’s recent graphic on the many groups involved in the Justina Pelletier case (Op-ed, May 2) misrepresents the work of the Coalition for Diagnostic Rights, an organization devoted to fighting the current epidemic of recklessness in diagnosing medical symptoms as psychiatric.

Along those same lines, the matter of diagnostic rights in Pelletier’s case has been resolved, but reports have failed to notice this central point.

As a result, news organizations and the teen’s supporters across the country wrongly continue to frame the case as a diagnostic dispute.

While the court agreed with Boston Children’s Hospital’s diagnosis of somatoform disorder for more than a year, in March that opinion was reversed, as the judge ordered medical care for Pelletier from Tufts Medical Center.

This immense victory for diagnostic rights was buried in the judge’s use of the new label, “somatic symptom disorder,” which sounds just like somatoform disorder but which is actually compatible with serious illness.


Every patient has a right to a cautious diagnosis. That this no longer goes without saying reflects poorly on the ethics of current diagnostic practice.

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