Peacock investigates the real-life case of a 14-year-old girl who was taken from her parents’ care in Boston and could not leave the hospital for more than a year in The Battle for Justina Pelletier.
Justina’s parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier took their daughter to Boston Children’s Hospital in February 2013 after she complained of severe stomach pain. When doctors at the facility examined the teen, they determined that she did not have the rare illness she had been diagnosed with months earlier—mitochondrial disease. The doctors suspected Justina had somatoform disorder, a mental health condition in which a person experiences physical symptoms that are not caused by a physical illness.
The hospital later became concerned that Justina was suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, claiming that her parents were overmedicating her. The doctors decided to treat the patient in the hospital.
What became of Justina Pelletier?
From February 13, 2013, to June 14, 2014, Justina Pelletier was a patient at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her parents were not permitted to discuss medical issues with her or with medical professionals from outside the facility during this time. Justina’s father, Lou Pelletier, attempted to have her discharged from the hospital on February 14, 2013. He stated in the documentary that he wanted to get Justina “the hell out of there” because “this situation [was] going south and I needed to fix it.”
The hospital refused Justina’s parents’ request to discharge her because she was unable to walk, eat, or drink and required in-patient care. Lou Pelletier then dialed 9-1-1 and informed the dispatcher that he suspected the hospital of “kidnapping his daughter.”
Justina’s parents and sister, Jessica, were eventually escorted out of the hospital by police. Later that day, Boston Children’s Hospital filed a 51A report declaring that they would take custody of Justina from her parents. The Pelletiers were accused of medical malpractice by the hospital. Justina’s parents denied the allegations and fought for their daughter’s return.
Justina was treated at Boston Children’s Hospital until January 2014, when she was moved to a facility in Framingham, Massachusetts. During this time, Anonymous member Martin Gottesfeld hacked the hospital’s computer system and demanded Justina be returned to her family. On June 17, 2014, a judge dismissed the child protection case against Lou and Linda Pelletier and ruled that Justina could return home to her family after a 16-month custody battle between the Pelletier family and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. On June 18, she returned home.
What happened to Justina Pelletier?
Justina’s father stated in the documentary that she “kept riding horses, started getting involved in school activities,” and focused on making art since returning home from the hospital. Justina will graduate from high school on June 15, 2020.
Justina “had a challenging year” after having a stroke in October 2021, according to her father in early 2022. He claimed the stroke rendered her unable to walk and impaired her ability to communicate. Her mother described it as an “extremely frightening” time.
Despite the health scare, Justina appears in the final episode of the Peacock documentary, in which the Pelletier family discusses her life. Following the medical malpractice lawsuit, Justina spoke for the first time on camera.
Justina described her experiences at Boston Children’s Hospital in a video shot on February 26, 2022. Justina, then 23, stated in 2013 that she “didn’t like” being in the facility and that it was “hard and lonely” to be there.
Dr. Richard Boles, a geneticist, explained in the documentary that Justina’s DNA sequence indicates that she has a complex form of mitochondrial disease. Dr. Boles went on to say that many of his patients with the illness have some form of somatoform disorder because the disease affects their nervous system.
Following her stroke, Justina has been having physical therapy and is working to improve her health condition. On May 20, 2022, she was seen being treated by a physical therapist. Justina’s mother stated that she hopes to be able to walk again, and she was also shown trying adaptive skiing.