A mother who is unable to move or speak — and possibly to understand — is the focus of an unusual, emotional court case to decide if she has visitation rights with her 3-year-old triplets.
A trial is set to start next month after a Los Angeles County judge on Tuesday ruled the parents of Abbie Dorn can fight for their daughter's right to see her children.
"They're not going to parent," Superior Court Judge Rudolph A. Diaz said. "They only want a right of visitation. They have the right to pursue that."
Dorn, 34, gave birth to a girl, Esti, and boys Reuvi and Yossi in 2006 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She suffered brain damage from complications of blood loss after a doctor nicked her uterus during delivery, according to a malpractice lawsuit that was settled for nearly $8 million.
Dorn was left unable to move, talk, eat or drink, and now lives with her parents, Susan and Paul Cohen, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She receives hours of daily therapy at a cost of about $33,000 a month, funded by the malpractice settlement.
She and her husband, Dan Dorn, divorced, and he lives with the triplets in Los Angeles. He has refused to allow the children to see their mother, arguing that a visit would be too traumatic for the youngsters.
His attorney, Vicki Greene, has said her client worries the children would feel guilty if they saw their mother and knew their births led to her condition, although he would not object to their visiting her when they are older.
Father wants financial support from ex-wife
Dan Dorn is seeking child support from his ex-wife, with the trial on support, custody, visitation and other issues scheduled for May 13.
Abbie Dorn can only see the children through photos that flash in a digital frame across from her hospital bed in her parents' home.
Her mental state is one of the unusual issues at the heart of the visitation dispute.
Dan Dorn contends his ex-wife is in a vegetative state and is incompetent to have visitation rights. The Cohens, who are their daughter's conservators, say their daughter communicates with them by blinking in answer to questions.
'Do you want to see your children?'
"I ask her, 'Do you want to see your children?'" Susan Cohen told the Los Angeles Times. "And she gives me a long blink."
In a 2007 medical report, a neurologist described Abbie Dorn's condition as permanent and said many of her mental functions were too impaired to be assessed. Her acupuncturist, however, has contended she has demonstrated a basic ability to comprehend and communicate.
"There is no evidence that Abbie Dorn can communicate," lawyer Greene argued at Tuesday's hearing. "This is a classic case of grandparent visitation. If you give them standing, what's to stop them from coming in and saying, she blinked, you need to take the kids to a different school?"
Abbie Dorn's attorney, Lisa Helfend Meyer, argued that her client has a fundamental right to representation because she cannot speak for herself.
"Abbie is alive. She is entitled to pursue visitation," the attorney argued. "If she is denied the opportunity, she is denied equal protection under the law."