Occasionally a bioethics controversy acquires national and international fame/infamy. The emergence of such a spectacle is commonly described as “viral”, primarily to signify that the commentator has no clue as to why and how and when the current craze became the current craze. My early pick for the 2014 bioethics case du jour is the odyssey of Justina Pelletier.

Justina Pelletier is a 16 year-old Connecticut girl with a bioethical history as follows, according to the Wikipedia entry for Boston Children’s Hospital,

Boston Children’s Hospital became part of a dispute with the family of a teenage patient, Justina Pelletier. The doctors and psychologists at Boston Children’s hospital came to a different diagnosis (Somatic Symptom Disorder) than the diagnosis she had previously received from Tufts University School of Medicine Hospital doctors (mitochondrial disease). BCH requested that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Children and Families protect and remove the patient from her parent’s custody and the girl was made a ward of the state of Massachusetts. Justina Pelletier was held in Boston Children’s Hospital’s locked psychiatric ward, Bader 5, from February 14, 2013, until January 2014, when she was transferred to Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, a residential treatment center in Framingham. On June 17, 2014, the same Massachusetts judge who issued the initial ruling dismissed the case against her parents and returned Justina to her family.

What is the anarcholibertarian analysis of this scenario?

The libertarian method of evaluation of a bioethical dispute is to first clarify the identity of the scarce resource(s) in question; in this case, Justina Pelletier’s body was the relevant scarce resource.

The second step in a libertarian bioethical analysis is to ascertain the just owner(s) of the scarce resource(s) in question. In this case, the just owner evaluation is slightly complicated by the youth of Justina Pelletier. If she had been an adult, Justina would have clearly been the autonomous full-owner of her body. As a non-adult, however, Justina was the full-owner of her body, but she was not autonomous. In fact, at the time of the controversy, her biological parents were acting as her guardians and, therefore, were obligated to make ultimate healthcare decisions for Justina. They were obliged to act as the ultimate decision-makers for their teenage daughter, as I have argued in a previous article, because they engaged in specific obligation-incurring actions (sexual intercourse to conceive a child then no abortion) causing emergence of a rights-bearing human at approximately 24 weeks post-fertilization — when functional brain activity becomes evident based on bilaterally synchronous EEG activity — in a perilous situation. Rights-bearing beings who engage in voluntary actions which cause a perilous situation for another rights-bearing being have engaged in aggression and are obligated to act in such a way as to relieve the perilous situation (eliminate the aggression).

The third step in a libertarian bioethical analysis is to identify the injustice(s) perpetrated by State intervention in the particular scenario. In the case, the crimes of the Massachusetts State, in collusion with Massachusetts Medicine (BCH administration and physicians), were legion: revocation without just cause of the guardianship of Justina Pelletier’s biological parents, naming itself (a criminal organization of aggression) as Justina’s new guardian, kidnapping Justina, imprisonment of Justina in a psychiatric facility for approximately 11 months, and subjecting Justina to experimental medical “treatment” she neither desired nor to which she consented.

Fortunately, the notoriety of the case probably contributed in some way to Justina’s eventual release. What would have been her fate if she had never been liberated from the BCH psychiatric ward? Charlotte Bronte prophesied the likely outcome in her description of Edward Rochester’s insane wife in the novel Jane Eyre,

In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell: it groveled, seemingly on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.

In summary, anarcholibertarian bioethical analysis reveals Justina Pelletier was the victim of a criminal corporatist alliance between Massachusetts Medicine and the Massachusetts State.