Free Speech

In the Justina Pelletier Case, Government Once Again Muzzles the Opposition


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I don't pretend to fully understand the medical controversy at the core of the dispute over Justina Pelletier. It troubles me, though, that the state of Massachusetts decided to resolve a difference of opinion between physicians at Tufts Medical Center and Boston Children's Hospital by taking a teenage girl away from her parents and treating their adherence to the Tufts diagnosis as child abuse. Just as troubling, is that the judge in the case slapped a gag order on the parents in an effort to prevent them from voicing their displeasure with official conduct. Once again, American apparatchiks display their discomfort with public criticism and debate.

We've seen this before with gag orders issued to recipients of national security letters, forbidding them from publicly challenging or complaining about government snooping. Even many judges find those gag orders constitutionally questionable. They're convenient, though, for government officials who like to go about controversial business with a minimum of muss, fuss, and challenge.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Matt Zimmerman pointed out with regard to gag orders issued in conjunction with national security letters, "Any statutory structure that grants the executive branch such power and couples that power with the ability to hide its behavior from scrutiny is ripe for abuse."

Grabbing children from their parents is a draconian act that is also "ripe for abuse." It might be done in a punitive, abusive, mistaken, or arbitrary fashion. It's certainly open to question and criticism when it appears to have been done as a matter of picking sides in a legitimate difference of opinion between reputable medical experts.

Why shouldn't parents be as free to challenge the forcible removal of a child from their care as a company or individual is to challenge the siphoning of sensitive information by inquisitive officials?

Yet the Boston Globe reported yesterday:

One issue before the judge in today's hearing was whether Lou Pelletier should be held in contempt of court for violating a gag order. The teen's father has recently given media interviews in which he expressed frustration with the quality of care his daughter is getting while in DCF custody, care that he has asserted has been nearly fatal for her.

Held in contempt for publicizing his fears that the state is killing his kid? How…inconsiderate of the judge's feelings.

There may be times when a gag order is appropriate, but the only one coming to mind right now is an order that would prevent government officials from telling members of the public to shut up.

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  1. Just as troubling, is that the judge in the case slapped a gag order on the parents in an effort to prevent them from voicing their displeasure with official conduct.

    Judges pretty much automatically side with social workers, although blocking parents from even working openly to get support for their plight should raise alarms for parents everywhere.

    1. But you have to get over the notion that they are “your” kids

      Melissa Harris-Perry

    2. It takes a village to seize children from their parents and then forbid them from complaining about it.

  2. The Jacket better be careful with his drinks tomorrow or he might end up in contempt of a gag order too.

  3. Been following this very complicated story. It’s amazing in the end how little power parents have over their own kids. It’s frightening.

    And fuck every single judge who ever sided against parents. Fuck them hard.

    1. I’ve been trying to follow it too. What I don’t understand is that the other daughter has the same disease, but it’s still in the mind’s of the parents?!?


      1. The problem here is that there is too much innuendo and hyperbole and incomplete information to form a judgement.

        The parents are doing themselves no favors by expressing strong emotion. THE JUDGE DOESN’T CARE. He isn’t interested in sharing their emotions. He wants to remain detached. So when someone expresses strong emotions he is not going to be empathic, he is going to be repelled.

        They reward people who are cool, collected and in control, which is why sociopaths often do really, really well when they go to court. They are better able to display the emotions that will get them what they want than some person who is watching their world crumble around them and is in in a state of excruciating agony, emotionally speaking.

        Imagine you were accused of a murder you didn’t commit. What would you feel inside as you are arraigned? Screaming terror. A desire to shriek your innocence as the uncaring criminal punishment industry places you on the mouth of the conveyor towards the flaying knives.

        What would your lawyer advise you to do? Be calm, reasonable, unscary.

        It’s the same thing in probate court when they are threatening to flense not you, but your children.

        1. I understand all that, and granted not too much of the case is known.

          -The other daughter has the same disease.
          -Tuft Medical Center diagnosed the girl, and they use additional method beyond the actual standards for the disease
          -DCF lacks medical staff so they rely on Boston’s Children’s Hospital
          -Boston Children’s Hospital believes the disease is a figment of the mind, and that the parents are abusing their daughter
          -Judge issues gag order on all parties
          -The girl has gotten worse for the past year while not being under her parent’s care

          Assuming that is correct, how the fuck is this even possible? Let’s not even start with the conflict of interest with the hospital and the DCF.

          I’ve only seen the father in the single interview and don’t know their behavior in court, but he looked calm and collected when discussing the whole thing knowing he’s in contempt.

  4. This is one of those stories that makes you think there is no end to what Americans will put up with (as long as it happens to other people). This poor family is being treated like dissidents in some commie country that no longer automatically shoots you, but still uses the machinery of the state to silence disobedience. The coverage from the Boston media is servile in the extreme. Why aren’t Bostonians screaming for someone to get to the bottom of this?

    Makes me want to puke on the flag.

    1. Because nobody wants to believe that the institutions they respect, whose expansion they voted for, whose funding they support with their taxes are acting unjustly.

      You see it time and time again. From the cheering of the police riot in the aftermath of the Marathon bombers murdering that MIT Cop, to the disinterest regarding the regular corruption scandals that sweep the statehouse, the people here regularly act as if everything is copacetic despite being confronted with irrefutable evidence of a government that rips them off, abuses them, and pushes them around.

  5. Dangerous ground here. Taking away kids is one of those circumstances where normal people (not Massholes) start shooting. Hope I’m on that jury someday.

  6. Like shooting a person in self-defense, there ought to be a provision letting you plead that your contempt of court was justified.

  7. How can this even be happening?!?!?

  8. Marrying medicine to the state: What could possibly go wrong?

  9. We need a new laws

    – A child cannot be held longer than 72 hours in the care of a doctor or institution that has reported the child’s family to DFS if custody of the child is altered as a result of the report. The child must be transferred or discharged within that time period.

    This eliminates the risk of conflict of interest, where the doctor or institution receives financial gain from reporting a child’s family in order to cause the child to remain under their care.

    It also eliminates the ethical concern that such a doctor/institution has violated the trust of the patient and can never achieve an effective doctor/patient relationship

    No doctor or institution should ever be able to gain total domination over a patient by reporting them to DFS.

    We need a similar law for patients who are “sectioned”.

    And, it mitigates a concern that motives for reporting are for personal reasons on the part of the doctor, such as resentment that another doctor’s opinion was chosen above his, anger at parents who were rude or uncooperative, or the desire to investigate or research a child’s illness or gain control of a child’s case

  10. We need another new law.

    The administration of drugs to a child that were prescribed by a licensed doctor to that child in accordance with the directions provided by the doctor cannot be considered child abuse.

  11. And, another new law.

    The administration of pain medication that has been provided to a child by a licensed doctor, in accordance with the directions provided by that doctor, cannot be considered as child abuse.

  12. We also need to eliminate the “specialty” in medicing of “medical child abuse specialist”. They are simply bored psychiatrists — solutions looking for a problem, and creating them when they can’t find them.

  13. And, we need another law that when a child is admitted to a hospital, each specific doctor who examines the child must state his specialty and gain permission from the parent to examine the child. If the child came for a gastroenterologist, then the child cannot be examined by a psychiatrist or a “medical child abuse specialist” without permission from the parents.

  14. We need another law —
    If the State takes custody of a child and is unable to place the child within 72 hours, the child must be returned to the custody of the child’s parents. Likewise, if a child is well enough to be discharged from the hospital, then the child must be discharged within 72 hours.

    Bottom line — the State cannot take custody of a child if the State is unable to care adequately for that child by providing the child with a suitable home.

  15. And, another law.

    Parents of a child have a right to request an independent medical examination of a child that the State has removed from their custody, by the doctor of their choosing, every six months, and they have a right to initiate court proceedings related to custody of their child based on the outcome of that examination, and the State is required to take the medical opinion into consideration in it’s deliberations.

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