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Lots of Emotion, Little Facts in the Abbie Dorn Case July 8, 2010

Posted by frrobins in Current Events, health.
Tags: , ,

I sincerely wish the person trying to find out the diagnosis given to Abbie Dorn by a physician better luck than I had. The best I could find was that a neurologist named Richard Helvie described her condition as permanent back in 2007. But I do know that her parents claim that she is merely disabled and progressing with treatment while her ex-husband, Dan, says that she is in a persistent vegetative state.

The fact that I can’t even determine what a doctor who is not a family member thinks of her diagnosis and prognosis makes me hesitant to say anything about this tragic case. Four years ago when Abbie went to a hospital to deliver triplets something went wrong. She lost over 2 liters of blood, and the supply of oxygen to her brain was cut off for too long. Now being supported by her parents, a team of caregivers and therapists, she can barely move, can’t talk, gets her nutrition through a feeding tube and is incontinent. She reportedly cries, smiles, and blinks. According to her parents, if you ask her a question and she blinks once it means yes. If she doesn’t blink, it means no. Her ex-husband does not believe that Abbie is communicating.

There’s a whole lot of he says vs she says. I’m left wondering if anyone not affiliated with her parents or her ex has ever questioned Abbie without her parents or other family present and given their opinion on the matter. Has anyone taken a list of questions based on facts that she would know (ie: Is your name Abbie? Were you born on XX/XX/XXXX? Is Yaakov your brother? etc) and determined if her yes and no answers are correct?

While I believe that her parents are sincere in the belief that their daughter is communicating with them, it would not be the first time a parent or caregiver deceived themselves into thinking that someone who can’t communicate verbally can do so by other means. I couldn’t help but think of facilitated communication when I read Abbie’s story.

Why is this important? Because Dan Dorn has not allowed Abbie’s triplets to visit her. He says that because of their young age, he feels it would be too traumatic for them, and he doesn’t want them to feel guilty because this happened while she was delivering them. Abbie’s parents maintain that she wishes to see her children and blinks once when asked. A judge ruled that Abbie’s parents can file for visitation on her behalf. The case is still making its way through the courts.

As pointed out by Vicki Greene, Dan Dorn’s attorney, there is some concern about who is really communicating. If Mr. Dorn wants to send the children to school A, but Abbie’s parents don’t agree, what’s to stop them from saying that it is Abbie’s wishes that they don’t? How do we know that Abbie really is communicating her wishes?

Abbie could very well be conscious and trapped in her own body, communicating through blinking. Or her body could be alive but completely unaware. Without knowing which one it is, it is hard to say what would be best for her.

But what about her children? Mr. Dorn’s reasoning for preventing them from seeing her is steeped in their welfare after all. Reportedly they do not even know where their mother is, though they have supposedly been asking. I don’t believe that keeping information from children for their protection serves their best interests. I do think they have a right to know that their mother is very sick. He does not need to address how she got that way until they ask, and then it would probably best be address with a therapist. When I see the argument about not telling children something to protect them, I tend to believe that the adult is really wanting to protect him or herself from discussing something that is uncomfortable and painful.

Would it be in the childrens’ best interest to visit their mother? Once again, I cannot say. Knowing her condition, do they want to see her? And if so, if she can communicate through blinking and is recovering then I don’t see the harm. If she is in a persistent vegetative state and will most likely never recover, and this is acknowledged and explained to the children then I still don’t see any harm. But if it is the latter but the children are told she is recovering and communicating, then I have some major concerns. The children need to have realistic expectations about their mother’s condition and chances of recovery.

Emotions are starting to rise high on this one, but the facts necessary for decision making in the case are scarce. I only hope that the courts will be able to do a better job of collecting information than reporters have been in this case.



1. Bill - July 13, 2010

‘Permanent’ almost certainly means PVS.

Essentially, she’s another Schiavo.

And like in that case, her parents can’t accept the diagnosis – notice that none of the _doctors_ treating her say she’s improving.

Money is going to be a big issue here – dad can make the case that her parents are dissipating assets on which the kids have a claim when she will never improve – and yes, he can demand child support from her.

frrobins - July 13, 2010

I’m inclined the agree about the parents not being able to accept her diagnosis. I have read that her ex suing for child support is more of a legal maneuver than anything else. She would have to be questioned by the court about child support (and her parents are refusing to let her be interviewed citing that it would be too traumatic. I don’t really buy that excuse).

2. Katydid - July 15, 2010

We live in a society where a mother is put in solitary confinement because she refuses to take her son to visit his serial rapist dad in prison. Yet, we allow a father to treat his ex-wife like some kind of useless incubator instead of as a mother who risked her life to bring her triplets into this world. A disabled woman is not a monster. Kids aren’t traumatized about something like this unless the adults in the situation teach them to be afraid. Abbie Dorn should have visitation rights with her kids. The father is the real monster.

frrobins - July 18, 2010

What is your evidence that she is disabled but not in a coma or vegetative state? As I pointed out, we don’t know her diagnosis. And we don’t have proof that she is communicating. Go back and read my article.

I never said she was a monster. In fact, I’ve not seen anyone claim that she is a monster. And I did say her children should know about her. But you completely missed my concern about the kids being lead to believe that their mother is conscious and will recover when she won’t. If she will recover that’s one thing, but if she won’t that would be real damaging. Her children need to have realistic expectations for her recovery. Since we, the people reading the news, don’t know what are the realistic expectations for her recovery, who are we to give such a definitive opinion?

And keep in mind, the only side talking to the press is her parents. There are two sides to a story. We don’t know Mr. Dorn’s side.

And basically, you’ve just proven my point that people aren’t thinking rationally about this at all.

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