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Update on Abbie Dorn March 26, 2011

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Human Nature.
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You may remember the case of Abbie Dorn who ended up braindamaged after giving birth to her triplets in 2006 due to a series of medical errors. Her mother requested that Abbie’s children, being raised by her (now ex-) husband, should have regular visits with their mother, but their father refused on the grounds that it would be traumatic for the children, and claiming  that Abbie would not benefit from it, either, due to her reduced mental state. Now a judge in Los Angeles has ruled that Abbie will indeed get visitation rights:

In a tentative 10-page ruling, Judge Frederick C. Shaller said that Abbie Dorn, 34, can see her daughter, Esti, and sons Reuvi and Yossi, for a five-day visit each year pending a trial in the acrimonious custody case. She also entitled to a monthly online Skype visit. A trial date has yet to be set.

“We are thrilled,” said Felicia Meyers, one of Dorn’s attorneys.

Although “there is no compelling evidence that the visitations by the children will have any benefit to Abby,” Shaller wrote, “…there is no compelling evidence that visitation with Abby will be detrimental to the children.”

In my previous post about Abbie’s situation I concluded (and pardon me for quoting myself! It’s easier to paste it in, here on a Saturday morning, than to rephrase it),

It’s not such a hard question. Be Solomonic. Err on the side of inclusive personhood—as long as there is a chance that Abbie is having experiences and wishes, respect them, and her. She is on a long, dark journey, and adding insult to her terrible injury by disregarding her potential personhood is unworthy these days. On the other hand, there is no reason why visitation rights should be granted from one day to the next, with the risk of traumatizing her toddlers. After all, she’s not asking for custody. If Abbie’s parents, and Abbie, want the best for the children (who at this point don’t even know they have a mother), they should be left with their father, and slowly be introduced to the story, with pictures, video, etc. Writing letters and drawing pictures to their mother could be the start of a relationship, building up a unique situation over months. I would assume that having a mother without a voice, or without arms that can hold them, but with loving eyes speaking a language of their own (if indeed Abbie herself is still behind those eyes), is a whole lot better than having no birth mother at all in their lives, and being told the story later when it is too late to amend the situation …what “might have been” is going to be cold comfort…

It seems that Judge Shaller holds the same view of Abbie and her children.



1. forrest noble - April 21, 2011

It seems to me a totally sad circumstance. The husband is arguing that his ex-wife really doesn’t know “what’s up” and her lawyer, via her parents, are arguing that she does know what’s happening.

This seems like an “easy one” to resolve, in my opinion. A professional third person appointed by the court should determine the woman’s mental competence concerning the situation. If she really understands and wants to see her children then the court should rule in her favor. If she is not competent then the courts should rule in the husbands favor.

I think it is sad however, that the husband is such a jerk that he does not allow the children to visit with their mom regardless of her mental competence. Children are resilient creatures and in time could realize that their mom in the right mental condition would have loved them and been part of their life.

2. Chul Park - April 22, 2011

I think the husband was indeed looking out for his children, but I disagree with his train of thought. Although seeing a mother in a debilitated state can cause certain trauma for children, an absence of a mother can be equally traumatic. Given that both situations have the risk of trauma, it seems the right choice would be to at least respect the ill mother, as there is a chance she still has a remnant of consciousness left in her.

I also think that the children deserve to know the truth about their mother. If the children knew about their mother and still didn’t want to visit her, then that would be the family’s problem; To hide the truth based on the father’s decision seems unjustified for the children.

The question addressed by this situation seems to be what rights a person at a reduced mental state should be given. The first step to solving this problem would be to define what a reduced mental state is: where the line is drawn between healthy and reduced mental states. Abbie Dorn has obviously shown to be given the right to live, so it seems inconsistent to take away her right to see her children. She certainly cannot exercise her rights as she cannot communicate, but she is still clearly given rights as a person by society so I would argue to stay consistent with that idea.

3. Asur - April 26, 2011

Nina, what criteria do you use to establish that someone is a person?

I really can’t see where you’re coming from on this.

4. forrest noble - April 26, 2011


Grom Nina’s article above and from outside news sources it seems that there is a question whether the mother is in touch with reality and that she is really competent and would understand a visit by her children.

Medical records and her doctor seem to believe that the mom has little understanding of reality. Her parents (the children’s grandparents) believe that through yes and no questioning, that they believe her true wishes are for her to see her children. It seems that this is only the grandparent’s opinion who are paying for her side of the legal battle.

I think the court must decide whether this is truly the woman’s wishes or simply the grandparents wishes and imaginations.

Asur - April 28, 2011

I feel a lot of empathy toward the grandparents; the husband’s moved on and the kids are too young to know up from down, but the grandparents are just trying to keep their baby girl alive in their lives, even if she isn’t.

I may only value the red pill, but I understand why people take the blue.

As a philosophical issue of what makes a person a person, though, I just don’t see how Abbie can qualify.

But, I guess this blog is just meant to serve up food for thought rather than be a place to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty actually, y’know, engaging in dialectic.

5. Donald Johnson - May 11, 2011

Gradually introducing the mother to the children to pictures and other related media is probably one of the better solutions. The children need to understand what has occurred to their mother and over time they should grow some type of sensitivity to the situation. I don’t think the ex-husband was in the best mode of thought for his children, though I understand he was just trying to look out for them.

Abbie’s potential for rational thinking may not be expressed through her body, but as long as there is no damage to her children there is no reason to prevent her from seeing her children.

Her visitation is at the very minimum of what it could be. Five days out of the year is the least that can be done for the children. What will they do if the children ask to see her mother more?

I am honestly surprised as the fathers lack of sensitivity for his ex-wifes condition. Marriage is in sickness and in health. He upholds that shes not a person any more. Yet there is still the possibility that she is aware of her situation. She just isn’t able to express it.

As a dualist I uphold that since her soul is still intact there is still the potential for her to be aware with rational thoughts.

6. angel bonilla - May 11, 2011

Regarding this topic and making it relate to class is phenomenal way of having us grasp the concept of personhood. While still a little confusing it does not seem as vague as it did to me before. Abbie, herself, under Merleau-Ponty’s view would still be a person knowing that Ponty states that a body is how we observe and interact with the world. It seems the children’s father does seem to be trying to protect them from a sort of traumatic experience seeing as they are still young and might not completely understand what it is going on. Since Abbie is in fact still living her skin would let her interact with the world, her eyes might in fact be sending images to her brain. This, of course is stated amateurly, I know very little of the this case.

Abbie Dorns kids might in fact benefit from seeing their mother, and it is very likely that they might reproach their father for not letting them know that they had a mother. Personhood, while having many definitions may very well not be any. To me Abbie is in fact ‘still here’ I believe that seeing her kids is beneficial to her and her kids. While I do, again, understand the fathers view, I think that the fact the she is still having eye movement and, I believe breathing on her own, that she is still a person and that personhood come from within an actual body. Like Damasio, I feel that both mind and body are two inseparable entities and the mind goes with the body. Most of the semester we have covered and talked about the philosophy of the human being in the world and I feel that in fact the judge made a great decision in letting Abbies kids have time with her and that Abbie is still a person.

7. Luis Vargas - May 12, 2011

I agree with the idea of gradually introducing the children to their mother through pictures and videos as well as telling them stories aboout how her mother was before her health problems, also let them know that their mother is currently sick and is being taken care of by doctors.

Then as they grow older let them know about the complications and that even though she may seem to be unable to do what normal people can do she is still their mother and that as long as she is breathing she will love them with all her heart.

Just because you are unable to take care of yourseld it does not mean that you do not have the right to see your children or let them see you. Communication is key when it comes to complex situations such as this one and by explaining what happened to the children in a proper way the transition would be less complicated.

Personally, if I were in a similar situation where I would have never really met my mother I would definitely do everythng possible to make that happen and see her constantly no matter what situation she may be in.

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