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Child custody dispute takes a sharper controversial turn

A juvenile court judge in another state has issued a controversial decision over a 15-year-old girl's custody that many predicted would go the other way. The judge ordered that child custody be placed in the state's child welfare services agency instead of her parents. He appears to have made the decision possibly on reasons other than the child's best interests. The best interest of the child test is the governing standard applied in Colorado and all other states to decide who should get child custody in a contested case.

The decision stressed some verbally abusive incidents involving the parents. It supported the views of a local hospital and child welfare workers who seized the child from her parents on a highly criticized rationale over a year ago. Presumably, the case may be appealed to a higher court.

The controversy began when the parents took her to the Boston Children's Hospital in early 2013 to see a doctor who had transferred from Tufts University Hospital which was the girl's main provider. Tufts had been treating her for mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder that attacks cellular energy production. While at Boston Children's, someone decided to second-guess Tufts by declaring that she had a psychiatric condition known as somatoform disorder. The child was taken from the parents, who were removed by armed guard.

When they objected, the hospital accused the parents of some kind of "medical child abuse," a term not clearly defined. Since then, groups of legislators in both Massachusetts and Connecticut have demanded that the state children's agency release the child to her parents. In particular, they complained that the Massachusetts agency has found no abuse or bad behavior by the parents. Legislators criticized the intrusive heavy-handed interference by Massachusetts authorities.

Hopefully, in Colorado more judicious hearts and minds would refrain from hasty interference with a child's ongoing medical attention at a highly respected institution. Furthermore, taking child custody from unsuspecting parents on what appears to be a speculative hunch is hopefully not a practice gaining popularity. The cost in human frustration, along with the heavy expenditure of resources in the legal system and the social services, is something to be guarded against wherever possible.

Source: The Boston Globe, The Justina Pelletier case: Mass. granted permanent custody, Patricia Wen, March 25, 2014

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