By now you have probably encountered media coverage of Abbie Dorn’s story. A brand new mother of triplets, she had serious complications after the births resulting in brain damage and paralysis. She was left unable to walk, care for herself or speak. Her parents now care for her. The father decided that he did not want the children to know her or interact with her for fear of traumatizing them or making them feel guilty. He divorced her and claimed that he wanted to “move on with his life.” While the details of the situation may be complicated, there is a very simple underlying question within this case. Does a person with severe disabilities have basic human rights?
Perhaps her ex-husband no longer wants to know or interact with her. Perhaps he feels traumatized and guilty. Perhaps he truly feels that he is trying to protect his children’s best interests. It is undeniable that he has the right to feel all of these things. Nevertheless, Abbie Dorn has done no harm to her children that would warrant the punishment of never being allowed to see them again. To deny her the right to participate in her children’s lives to the best of her abilities is to deny her basic human rights, to deny her maternal rights.
It has been demonstrated that Abbie is able to communicate through the use of her eyes. There are people with paralysis who have been provided with the technology to communicate through subtle eye movements, or other means. Abbie may be trapped in a body that no longer obeys her but that does not mean she can not continue to interact with the world and her loved ones if given the chance. If she truly is aware of her surroundings and still able to think and feel, then imagine the torment she lives every day being apart from the three children she carried in her womb.
The father’s discomfort with his ex-wife’s condition should not play any role in her parental rights. Societal discomfort with people with disabilities – or any person, for that matter – should not be the determining factor on access to and exercise of basic human rights. Whenever and wherever possible, we should strive for more rights for our fellow human beings, not less. Abbie’s life has taken a tragic turn but she is alive. Her life’s purpose is neither to be dependent nor to inspire others. Her purpose, like that of any other person, is to survive, contribute, love and pursue the happiest, fullest life possible.
Abbie’s fulfillment of her life and purpose is unique to her, as it is for any other individual. Being a citizen of the United States, the rights to her own personal version of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should have protection under the law. Her children also deserve that same right. They deserve the right to know the mother that strove to conceive them, loved them before they were born, had hopes and dreams for them and nearly died as she did her best to bring them safely into the world. This situation is not easy for anyone involved. Life is complicated and messy but it is our relationships that make it worth living. We must not deny these children and their mother the right to know each other.