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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Is brain-damaged mom "still" a mom?

I was reading the news online last night when I came across this article about Abbie Dorn, a woman who experienced catastrophic brain damage during a cesarean section to deliver her triplets. As a result of medical error, she lost oxygen for at least 20 minutes. While the details of the birth have not been disclosed, as a result she is in her parents' care - and the triplets are with their father across the country, after he divorced his wife in the year following their birth.

As others have already said, this case is very reminiscent of Terri Schaivo's, with the exception of having children, of course. Terri was a young woman who also suffered brain damage, and her parents were fighting to care for her, even in her near-vegetative state. Her estranged husband (who by that time had moved on with his life and had a fiancee and children), strangely, had rights to terminate her care and did so, causing her to essentially starve to death after a 13-day struggle. In Abbie's case, at least her parents are caring for her, and I'm not sure why that wasn't the case with Terri.

Abbie's husband feels that their children would be better off not seeing their mother, perhaps alarmed by her compromised state. He is also arguing for child support monies to come from her huge malpractice suit that is currently funding her care. He has reportedly kept them from their grandparents and allegedly hidden pictures of their mother from the children, saying that he doesn't want them to feel guilty about their mother's circumstances because it was their birth that caused it.

According to the article, the grandparents wanted their son-in-law to bring the children to see them regularly, as any grandparent would. Apparently until the four-year-old children saw their mother at the end of last year, he had not done so until that point.

I can't think of anything more sad and pathetic than the father's behavior in this situation. Admittedly there is no chance of his wife recovering the way she was before, which means it totally changes the nature of their relationship. To some people, that's okay, and they will continue to support their spouse regardless. To others, a divorce or annulment is also understandable as they are young and have an entire lifetime ahead of them, perhaps remarrying and having more children. Either way, though, it doesn't change that these grandparents have grandchildren whom they've barely seen, or held, until they turned four.

A friend of mine married quite young, and before he turned 30, he became a widower. His young daughter was barely a preschooler when her mother died, and yet she regularly sees her maternal grandparents in the summer. As awkward as it might be, considering her father has remarried and had another child, he still believes that his daughter needs to have a valuable relationship with her grandparents, as most people would. It seems that only when there's already bad blood existing between the grandparents and parents do the grandparents' rights get terminated or curtailed severely, which makes me wonder about the relationship Abbie's husband had before this even began.

Considering that often when there is a custody problem - say, if the parent is unfit to raise their child - they often place the child with its grandparents. And yet, grandparents have little if any rights in any state when it comes to their grandchildren, even though they are often willing and able, and are an interested, blood-related connection to the child. In this case, Abbie's parents realize that she will never be able to raise her children, but that still doesn't mean she - or they - shouldn't deserve to see them.

Aside from the rights of the grandparents, this issue raises questions for me - namely, the idea of personhood and the rights of the disabled - not to mention the triplets' right to see and know their own mother. The question "what would she would have wanted?" comes up, both in Abbie's case and in Terri Schiavo's. Terri was very young when her brain injury happened, and it's easy to say that a 20-year-old would not want to live with what others perceive as a "low quality of life," which is a relative term, at best. But when it comes right down to it, perhaps Terri would have wanted to live, and be in the care of her parents, surrounded by compassion and people who loved her. I'm sure Abbie would never say, "I don't ever want to see my children," if she could predict such a terrible outcome. Considering Abbie's current state and the orders of the judge (who originally sided with the dad), it's like they're saying Abbie is not really a person with any rights, just because she's severely brain-damaged. She gave birth to these children - how can you even begin to question, "Is she a mom?"

Ironically, when the triplets were allowed to finally see their grandparents last year, lawyers for both sides agreed that the visit went well. So then what's the problem?

Some have wondered just how "religious" the father is that he can deprive the children of their mother, by hiding her picture and refusing to talk about her to them. I'm sure it's painful and uncomfortable, but I don't see how his actions - or the court's - can possibly help this case.

In seeking money for child support from her estate, he's essentially saying, "Grandparents, I'm going to sever all ties and keep your grandchildren from you, but I want your settlement money to help raise them." Had he maintained more of a relationship with them, perhaps he would have been rightfully entitled to some of that money, including probably had childcare support from them. Talk about burning your bridges.

A new trial is set for May 13.

More here:
Judge to Decide if Paralyzed Mother Abbie Dorn Deserves Visitation Rights - Huffington Post
Stand Up for Abbie Dorn - A FaceBook-based advocacy group
Terri Schiavo - Wikipedia article


Diana J. said...

Your thoughts are right on! :)