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Final chapter in child custody case of Massachusetts teen

Hopefully, the last chapter may have been written in the strange 16-month saga of a Connecticut teenager whose case has been documented here and in the news. The teenager has been in the custody of the State of Massachusetts since February 2013, when her parents sought medical help for her at Boston Children's Hospital.

This month, the teen was allowed to return to her parents' West Hartford, Connecticut, home after a judge in the Massachusetts juvenile court system returned her to their custody.

During an interview, the teen was giddy with happiness at the prospect of being allowed to go back home, saying, "I'm so happy. I'm so excited, oh, my gosh, [i]t's such big news."

The child custody case attracted the interest of such disparate groups as online hackers, conservative Christians, those critical of the use of psychotropic drugs and advocates for enhanced awareness of disorders that are notoriously hard to diagnose.

Physicians at the Massachusetts hospital were skeptical of the diagnosis of mitochondrial disease, which had been given to her by a doctor at Tufts over a year before. The Children's clinicians believed that her correct diagnosis was somatoform disorder, a psychiatric condition that produces symptoms with no medical basis.

When her parents disputed the new diagnosis and sought to transfer her back to Tufts to her regular doctor's care, authorities at Children's made allegations against them for medical child abuse. The Massachusetts child protection agency took emergency custody of the girl on Feb. 14, 2013. The following day, the juvenile court judge validated their decision.

Nightmare scenarios like this one are something no parent ever dreams will occur when they take their child to the hospital for treatment. While this case certainly is unusual, similar situations have played out elsewhere. Massachusetts parents facing such a dilemma should avail themselves of legal assistance to dispute the false allegations and regain custody of their child.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Justina Pelletier heads home after judge ends state custody," June 17, 2014

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