Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Too Disabled To See Your Children

According to her mother, Abbie Dorn had dreamed of being a parent for a very long time before she became the mother of triplets via invitro-fertilization.  Unfortunately for Abbie,  during the delivery she began to bleed and went into cardiac arrest, which deprived her brain of oxygen for twenty minutes. When her children turned one year old, her husband divorced her and ended visitation.  At this time he feels that it would be too damaging for the kids to see their mother.

Today, Abbie communicates with one long blink for yes and no response for no.  She is completely dependent upon her parents for care.

In the 19th century women were often housed in state facilities for their natural lives receiving little to no contact with the outside world.  They had no legal right to marry or reproduce.  In the 2oth century they were routinely sterilized, without either being informed or actively consenting to the procedure. The right of disabled women to reproduce and parent their offspring is something that society has historically seen to be problematic, because their bodies are viewed as flawed. Geneticist feared of passing so-called defective genes, or it was assumed that a disability meant that one was not fit to parent.

Abbie Dorn’s parents are currently attempting to sue for visitation rights on her behalf.  According to Holmstrom, Sissung, Marks & Anderson, APLC:

The California Family Code says that it is the public policy of the state to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. The rare exception would be if the courts deemed not seeing one parent in the child's best interest. This case will force the court to make difficult, unprecedented decisions.

In 1979, the California Supreme Court said that disabled parents can't be denied custody just because they are disabled, saying that parenting is as much about emotion as it is about physical ability. That case involved a father who had sole custody of his kids at the time of an accident that left him a quadriplegic. He retained the ability to speak and drive.

Dorn’s case differs because her parents are seeking visitation on her behalf rather than custody, and should she win this suit, it will establish new rights for disabled parents throughout the U.S.

Once again the argument of what is in the best interest of the child is being used to deny a marginalized woman her right to motherhood.  Children are incredibly resilient, and if their mother were introduced to them from the very beginning, I fail to see what kind of damage this would cause them.

Whether or not they see her, at some point they are going to learn that it was her sacrifice that lead directly to her disability. They may or may not feel responsible; however, at the very least visitation would allow them to form a bond with their mother. Growing up with a disabled parent will teach them about their able-bodied privilege, as well as encourage them to show empathy towards others -- but since these characteristics are not highly valued, they can soundly be ignored to trumpet the so-called best interest of the child.

Abbie may not be able to communicate conventionally, but she feels.  To separate her from her children after all that she has gone through is not only cruel, it is inhumane. It further suggests that there is no value to her being.  This is the social understanding of disabled bodies. They are expected to disappear from sight and are understood to be an inconvenience simply for existing.  It further follows the historic pattern of disallowing disabled women to mother because of their status as members of the so-called surplus population. If we can separate a mother from her children, how can we possibly claim to have the belief that all people are equal, or that we live in a society that cares about those whose bodies are constructed differently?