NBC News
updated 3/25/2011 3:15:21 PM ET 2011-03-25T19:15:21

While Abbie Dorn was undergoing a C-section section to deliver her triplets four years ago at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, her uterus was accidentally nicked by a doctor, she began to bleed and her heart stopped.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

The babies were fine, but Abbie Dorn, now 34, suffered severe brain injury from a prolonged lack of oxygen that left her unable to move, speak or live without a feeding tube. As bad as this situation is, it is being made worse by the fact that her ex-husband is trying to use her disabled state to prevent her and her children from knowing one another.

A year after her injury, her husband, Dan Dorn, gave up on her recovery. He divorced her. He is raising the triplets — two boys named Reuvi and Yossi and their sister, Esti — in a modest home in Beverlywood. Calif. Abbie Dorn held her children only once, the day of their birth. She has not even seen them in nearly 2 1/2 years.

Dan Dorn is doing all he can to make sure she does not ever see them again.

After the divorce, Abbie Dorn's parents, Paul and Susan Cohen, were named the conservators of her estate and moved their daughter to a medical facility close to their home in Myrtle Beach, S.C.. While they want the children to be able to visit their mother and them as well, Dan Dorn has refused.

Dad says visits would be too traumatic
Friday, a Los Angeles judge granted temporary visitation rights to Abbie Dorn until a trial date is set later in the case. That's exactly what ought to have happened — and at the trial, she should be given permanent visitation rights.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Dan Dorn has argued that visitation would be too traumatic for the triplets at their young age. He is also arguing, through his attorney, that since Abbie Dorn is in a vegetative state there is no point in having the children visit. She won’t necessarily know they are there. And she cannot say that she would like them to visit.

Dan Dorn's attorney, Vicki Greene, told the Los Angeles times that "As far as we know, Abbie is incompetent," and that the case is really all about her grandparents' wishes for visiting rights since "we don't know what Abbie wants, because Abbie can't speak for herself." In other words, no one can infer that a mother would want to see her children since she is too incompetent to tell us that this is so!

Story: Judge allows child visitation for paralyzed mom

Abbie Dorn is obviously severely impaired. She may remain that way forever. How much she can sense and know is in dispute — her ex-husband and some medical reports suggest she’s aware of very, very little. But her parents and some of Abbie’s caregivers argue that a much more positive, if slow, recovery is taking place

Mothers should get to see their children even if it is a long, long shot that they know they are there. And children should be able to visit with their mother even if she cannot make a request that they do. Children should be able to see their mother and their grandparents even if their mother is severely incapacitated.

Kids can understand severe disability
The mother’s condition may be disturbing, but children, like the rest of us, can accommodate the reality of very severe disability. To argue that severe disability ends one’s rights to see one’s children is simply wrong and ought be ruled unacceptable by any court thinking hard about what is in the best interest of children.

The plight of Abbie Dorn brings to mind cases like that of Terri Schiavo — families bitterly divided, a woman whose medical condition is in dispute between family members, a very damaged life hanging on the thread of a feeding tube. The analogy is wrong.

Poll: Should Abbie Dorn get visitation rights?

This is not a dispute about what ought be done regarding medical care when we are not sure what the patient would have wanted. This is a battle over whether a mother would want to see her children even if she cannot tell us that is so, whether it is in the best interests of children to have regular contact with their mother even if she is severely disabled and whether children ought have visits with their grandparents who love them very much.

The answers to these questions are not difficult to find. Granting Abbie Dorn temporary visitation rights is a good first step. Next, the court should make them permanent.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

© 2013  Reprints

Video: Paralyzed mom may lose right to see children

  1. Closed captioning of: Paralyzed mom may lose right to see children

    >>> time now for today's "news nation" gut check. just a few short hours from now, a california judge is set to rule on whether a paralyzed woman who cannot eat, speak or move, is entitled to regular visitation rights with her three young children. paralyzed after a medical mistake while giving birth to triplets in 2006 . her ex-husband, who left her after he according to reports, determined that she was not going to be able to make a full recovery, thinks the children would be traumatized by spending too much time with their mother. he is now raising the children on his own. abbey's parents have hired attorneys to fight for visits. her parent says just because she's paralyzed does not mean that she does not love her children and they say she has a constitutional right to see her children who now live in a separate state because abbey's parents are her primary caretakers. superior court judge shaler is expected to rule today after hearing closing arguenments from both sides. the attorneys were supposed to join "news nation" but they were called at the last minute into a closed-door meeting, perhaps, regarding a development in the case. we tried to reach out to the ex-husband of abbey, his attorneys, but they never called us back. according, though to her parents, abbey is able to communicate by blinking her eyes. when asked if she wanted to see her children, they believe she indicated such in responding with the blink of the eye. injuries, the paralyzing situation for the mother, occurred while giving birth to these triplets. her uterus was ruptured by a doctor and as a result $8 million malpractice settlement. her parents oversee it. for his part, her ex-husband insists that the children will be traumatized. they did see their mother in december for four days and all parties agreed it was a pleasant visit and it went well. the question at this point, what does your gut tell you.

    >> should the judge rule in favor of allowing children to spend time with their mother, even if she does not have the ability to communicate and she's paralyzed. a heck of a question. an unprecedented case. for the family, they say it is about parental rights and a koon constitutional right for the individual. cast your vote. we hope to have attorneys on tomorrow. that

Vote: Should paralyzed mom be allowed to see her children?