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The child custody battle over Justina Pelletier is the most extreme of a handful of unusually contentious cases over the last 18 months involving Boston Children’s Hospital and the state Department of Children and Families. Most involve a disputed medical diagnosis, charges of parental misconduct filed or threatened by the hospital, and the inability of the state child-protection agency to provide effective intervention.
The state is supposed to get to the bottom of such disputes, but the agency is ill-equipped to settle disagreements at the highest levels of medicine. Across the entire state, the only child protection staffers with formal medical training consist of one half-time pediatrician, one half-time psychiatrist, and a handful of nurses. Five years after the Legislature approved funding for a physician medical director, the agency has yet to fill the slot.