FRAMINGHAM—About 40 supporters of a Connecticut couple locked in a custody battle with Massachusetts child protection officials rallied this afternoon outside a Framingham care center where their teenage daughter, 15-year-old Justina Pelletier, is staying.
“This is part of the overall national campaign to free Justina,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a family spokesman and head of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition, which organized the event. “When Justina is returned back to her family, we want her to know that there were scores standing with her who believed in this cause and came out to stand in solidarity with her.”
The case drew widespread attention after the Globe reported in December that the state took custody of Pelletier at the behest of Boston Children’s Hospital, which then kept her in a locked psychiatric ward for nearly a year. Doctors at Children’s thought Pelletier’s medical problems were largely psychiatric, not the result of mitochondrial disorder, an earlier diagnosis made by doctors at Tufts Medical Center and supported by Pelletier’s parents.
The state Department of Children and Families, already under pressure following a series of high-profile scandals, indicated Friday it was now trying to return Pelletier to Connecticut and allow her future medical care to be overseen by Tufts Medical Center.
Participants in the rally, some of whom drove hours from nearby states to attend, held signs reading, “FREE JUSTINA,” and cheered Mahoney on as he gave an animated interview to television reporters.
The group said they intentionally kept out of view of the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network building to avoid disturbing patients or staff there.
Pelletier’s parents did not attend today’s rally because they were emotionally exhausted, Mahoney said.
State Representatives Marc Lombardo and Jim Lyons also spoke at the rally, slamming DCF and calling for Pelletier to be transferred back to her parents’ custody.
Conservative and religious advocacy groups have latched onto aspects of the case, with some calling it emblematic of the problems that arise when government intervenes in family and medical decisions.
Mahoney, a veteran activist who made headlines during the Terri Schiavo controversy in Florida, insisted the purpose of today’s rally was to pray for Justina and others with similar cases.
But, he added, “Justina’s case is the canary in the coal mine of a broader problem nationwide of the erosion of parental rights.”