In June of 2006, Abbie Dorn gave birth to triplets: a daughter, Esti and two sons, Reuvi and Yossi at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. What should have been a joyous event turned into a tragedy when, as a result of a series of medical errors, Abbie Dorn suffered brain damage. As a result, Abbie is paraplegic and in a “minimally conscious state”. Abbie is able to communicate by blinking in response to yes/no questions, although she doesn’t do so consistently according to neurologist Dr. Angela Hays.
|Abbie, following her injury|
According to this article Abbie’s mother, Susan Cohen, “believes in miracles, prays that her daughter will improve and wears a bracelet with the Yiddish inscription Tracht gut vet zein gut, ‘think good, it will be good,’" whereas Dan says Abbie is "’100% not there’ and that it is damaging to the children to hear what his attorney Vicki J. Greene described as ‘false hope.’"
In December 2010, Dan took the children to visit Abbie for four days. It had been three years since Dan or the children, now nearly 5 years old, had seen Abbie. Dan and the Cohens offer different descriptions of the visit and its impact on the children.
According to Abbie’s parents, the children were happy to see their mother. They were unafraid, smiled at her, called her Mommy, touched her, were affectionate, and made her art projects.
Dan acknowledged that the children had enjoyed the visit, although he said that was because he was with them throughout the visit. But Dan also says the Reuvi and Esti became “clingy” after the visit and Reuvi also began bed-wetting.
Dan also acknowledged that he had not sought help from medical or mental health professionals after the visit, nor did he inform the children’s court-appointed attorney that there had been changes in the children’s behavior after the visit. In addition, Dan acknowledged that no one at the children’s school had noted changes in the children after the visit. According to Dan, he had spoken to the children about their mother until they were nearly 4 years old. Dan also acknowledged that he had done little to prepare their children for meeting Abbie. They had not seen pictures of their mother, nor had he spoken to them about the life he and Abbie shared before their birth.
Dan also admitted that he had told the children that their mother wouldn’t know if they were there or not. He said, "I told them she loved them very much, that a doctor made a mistake and, because of that, she can't move and she can't talk, and there's not any interaction you can have with her. I'm pretty sure I also said she's blind." Abbie is not blind, however, according to the neurologist who examined Abbie.
Many questions are raised by this case. As the L.A. Times article says, they include these: “What is a parent? What is communication? What is a relationship? Does a child, not yet 5, benefit from visiting a mother who neither moves nor speaks? Can that woman — Abbie Dorn, 34 — think, feel, love, want? How is it even possible to know?” And of course, the 2500 or so miles that separate the children from their mother is a factor which is not inconsiderable.
What do you think? Think about it for just a bit before you continue and then, to find out what the court’s ruling on this matter was, scroll down to the bottom of this post…
|Dan and Abbie Dorn in happier days|
|Abbie, taken prior to her brain injury|
What did the court decide?
First off, let me say that I can't help but be reminded of the Biblical story of Solomon being asked to decide another contentious case in 1 Kings 3:16-2:
Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.
“During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”
The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”
But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.
The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”
Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”
But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”
Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.
Just such wisdom and sensitivity must be required to render a decision in the case of Daniel and Abbie Dorn and their children.
Although a full hearing has not yet been scheduled, the judge’s preliminary ruling in this case was reported in this follow-up article to the one mentioned above. Judge Frederick C. Shaller said that it would be in the children’s best interest to have a relationship with their mother and that, indeed, it would be psychologically harmful for them not to do so. He said, "The court finds that even though [Abbie] cannot interact with the children, the children can interact with [Abbie] — and that the interaction is beneficial for the children. They can touch her, see her, bond with her, and can carry those memories with them."
Dan had removed all pictures of Abbie from his home. Judge Shaller ordered Dan to set up a table which is "’open and available to the children 24 hours a day, 7 days per week in his home devoted to the children's mother’ and to place photographs and other mementoes of her on it.” Furthermore, as a result of Shaller’s decision, Dan has been ordered to take the children to South Carolina for 5 consecutive days each year. In addition, there are to be monthly teleconference “visits” via Skype.
Judge Shaller also ruled that Dan “has a right to control the visits, decide which extended family members the children see and dictate what information they receive. He ordered Susan Cohen, Dorn's mother, to refrain from telling the children that the disabled woman communicates or that someday she could recover”.
What do you think about this case? What do you think about the judge’s decision? Would you have arrived at a different conclusion about what is in the best interests of the children and their parents?
As for me, I commend Judge Shaller for navigating dangerous waters to come up with a decision that seems to respect the rights of all concerned. I would add one thing: that the children be evaluated by a therapist at regular intervals throughout the first year of implementing the decision, at which point the Court should review the therapist's report to determine if further counseling should be required.
I'll be interested to see what you have to say!
H/T to Lisa of Roerdink Ramblings" for pointing out this story.