While Abbie Dorn was undergoing a C-section section to deliver her triplets four years ago at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, her uterus was accidentally nicked by a doctor, she began to bleed and her heart stopped.
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The babies were fine, but Abbie Dorn, now 34, suffered severe brain injury from a prolonged lack of oxygen that left her unable to move, speak or live without a feeding tube. As bad as this situation is, it is being made worse by the fact that her ex-husband is trying to use her disabled state to prevent her and her children from knowing one another.
A year after her injury, her husband, Dan Dorn, gave up on her recovery. He divorced her. He is raising the triplets — two boys named Reuvi and Yossi and their sister, Esti — in a modest home in Beverlywood. Calif. Abbie Dorn held her children only once, the day of their birth. She has not even seen them in nearly 2 1/2 years.
Dan Dorn is doing all he can to make sure she does not ever see them again.
After the divorce, Abbie Dorn's parents, Paul and Susan Cohen, were named the conservators of her estate and moved their daughter to a medical facility close to their home in Myrtle Beach, S.C.. While they want the children to be able to visit their mother and them as well, Dan Dorn has refused.
Dad says visits would be too traumatic
Friday, a Los Angeles judge granted temporary visitation rights to Abbie Dorn until a trial date is set later in the case. That's exactly what ought to have happened — and at the trial, she should be given permanent visitation rights.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Dan Dorn has argued that visitation would be too traumatic for the triplets at their young age. He is also arguing, through his attorney, that since Abbie Dorn is in a vegetative state there is no point in having the children visit. She won’t necessarily know they are there. And she cannot say that she would like them to visit.
Dan Dorn's attorney, Vicki Greene, told the Los Angeles times that "As far as we know, Abbie is incompetent," and that the case is really all about her grandparents' wishes for visiting rights since "we don't know what Abbie wants, because Abbie can't speak for herself." In other words, no one can infer that a mother would want to see her children since she is too incompetent to tell us that this is so!Story: Judge allows child visitation for paralyzed mom
Abbie Dorn is obviously severely impaired. She may remain that way forever. How much she can sense and know is in dispute — her ex-husband and some medical reports suggest she’s aware of very, very little. But her parents and some of Abbie’s caregivers argue that a much more positive, if slow, recovery is taking place
Mothers should get to see their children even if it is a long, long shot that they know they are there. And children should be able to visit with their mother even if she cannot make a request that they do. Children should be able to see their mother and their grandparents even if their mother is severely incapacitated.
Kids can understand severe disability
The mother’s condition may be disturbing, but children, like the rest of us, can accommodate the reality of very severe disability. To argue that severe disability ends one’s rights to see one’s children is simply wrong and ought be ruled unacceptable by any court thinking hard about what is in the best interest of children.
The plight of Abbie Dorn brings to mind cases like that of Terri Schiavo — families bitterly divided, a woman whose medical condition is in dispute between family members, a very damaged life hanging on the thread of a feeding tube. The analogy is wrong.
This is not a dispute about what ought be done regarding medical care when we are not sure what the patient would have wanted. This is a battle over whether a mother would want to see her children even if she cannot tell us that is so, whether it is in the best interests of children to have regular contact with their mother even if she is severely disabled and whether children ought have visits with their grandparents who love them very much.
The answers to these questions are not difficult to find. Granting Abbie Dorn temporary visitation rights is a good first step. Next, the court should make them permanent.
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
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