A medical collision with a child in the middle

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Doctors disagree all the time over the diagnosis and treatment of patients, but Justina Pelletier’s story reveals a new and remarkably contentious frontier in pediatric medicine. A difference of opinion among doctors at separate Boston hospitals escalated with stunning speed. Just a few days after Justina had arrived at Boston Children’s Hospital, doctors were urging state child-protection officials to take emergency custody of the girl from her parents so that Justina would get the care the hospital’s team recommended.

These cases are rare, but not as rare as one might think. In just the last 18 months, Children’s—which given its elite reputation attracts many of the toughest cases from across the Northeast—has been involved in at least five cases where a disputed medical diagnosis led to parents either losing custody or being threatened with that extreme measure.

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