Family of Justina Pelletier announces lawsuit against Boston Children's Hospital

by: Mark Ockerbloom Updated:


BOSTON - The family of Justina Pelletier has announced plans to sue Boston Children’s Hospital for civil rights violations and medical malpractice.

"The cry is never again. This lawsuit is way to hold Boston Children's and the defendants accountable," said family spokesperson Rev. Patrick Mahoney in a news conference. 


Justina suffers from Mitochondrial Disease and went to see a doctor at Boston Children's who had previously treated her at Tufts. Family lawyers said she never saw that doctor, but instead was treated by a different set of doctors, who thought the symptoms were due to psychological stress from abusive parents. The family said Justina was removed from their custody by the hospital and the State of Massachusetts in 2013. 

"These defendants implemented a radical treatment plan, a plan that would have only been appropriate in a documented case of child abuse," said Kathy Cook, one of the Pelletiers' lawyers. 

Cook said that during part of the time Justina was in the hospital, she was locked in a psychiatric ward. She was only allowed to see her parents once a week, said Cook. The family fought back and after 18 months Justina’s custody was transferred back.

"People shouldn't have to fight like this. It's a tough enough battle when you have a child that has health issues," said Lou Pelletier, Justina's father. 

Justina was at the news conference her family held on Thursday in a wheelchair. Her lawyer said that Justina's muscles were atrophied when she left hospital and she could barely raise her arms. Justina said she's had several surgeries and is feeling much better, but she is angry. 

"They really treated me badly, they didn't really care and it was awful. Just imagine being in a psych ward without needing  to be in a psych ward," she said. 

The family and Mahoney both said the lawsuit isn't about revenge, but making sure other families don't have to go through this. 

"The hope is, through the bravery of my daughter Justina, who fought like a child should never have to fight, hopefully we can stop this. Make hospitals think before they do these actions," said Lou Pelletier. 

Boston Children's Hospital issued the following statement after the lawsuit was announced: 

Boston Children’s Hospital welcomes the opportunity to vigorously defend the medical care it provided to Justina Pelletier. We are  committed to the best interests of our patient’s health and well-being, according to the high standards we follow for every patient placed in our care. Out of respect for the patient’s privacy and the ongoing legal process, Boston Children’s is unable to provide further comment about this specific issues of this case at this time.

Regarding general questions about religious and education services, Boston Children’s offers patients and families access to a broad complement of services that are outlined at . Specifically, patients and their families have access to Boston Children’s multi-faith chaplaincy, which offers spiritual support 24 hours a day to people of all traditions and those with no religious affiliation to assist and support our patients and their families.  Boston Children’s also offers educational tutoring for all eligible patients, with a  full time teacher on staff to provide ongoing education as appropriate for each individual patient. 

Boston Children’s and its providers are required by state law to report cases of suspected child maltreatment to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). DCF is solely responsible for investigating reports of suspected child maltreatment and for deciding whether to go to court to request temporary custody of a child.  The Hospital never decides who has custody of a child in any case of alleged child maltreatment. The Hospital is not the custodian or the legal guardian of the patients in its care, nor is it affiliated with any state agency. Boston Children’s does not keep patients in its care against the direction of the custodial guardian.

Read the news release from the Pelletier family and the amended complaint