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Boston Children’s Hospital

Opening Statements in Dispute Between Hospital, Teen Placed State Custody

Justina Pelletier's family is accusing Boston Children's Hospital of malpractice after a dispute in the then-teenager's diagnosis prompted state officials to take custody of her

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Opening statements began Tuesday in a medical malpractice trial involving a Boston hospital and the family of a Connecticut teen who was placed into state custody after a dispute over her diagnosis.

The family of Justina Pelletier has filed a lawsuit against Boston Children's Hospital, saying Pelletier, then 14, was placed in Massachusetts state custody and "held against her will" in 2013.

The Pelletier family's attorney said she was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease — a disorder that affects cellular energy production — at Tufts Medical Center, but Boston Children's Hospital said her issues were psychiatric.

When her parents rejected that diagnosis and tried to discharge her, allegations of medical child abuse were raised, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families took custody of her.

"You will hear that they were angry, that they were enraged and that they objected in every way they knew how," John Martin, the attorney for the Pelletier family, said during opening statements.

She eventually was returned to the care of her parents in 2014 after a judge's order.

The lawsuit says Pelletier suffered "severe and debilitating psychiatric trauma as a result of being held against her will in a locked psychiatric ward."

Boston Children's Hospital denies the allegations of medical malpractice and said it would "vigorously defend the care our clinicians provided."

"You didn't hear anything in the opening statement that the treatment they provided was wrong," said the hospital's attorney, Ellen Epstein Cohen. "That's because it wasn't improper. It helped her. She improved."

The case is putting the spotlight on the debate of who has the final say on a child's treatment — doctors or parents.

With opening statements now complete, the jury will begin listening to testimony in the case. The judge told them the trial could last up to a month.

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