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A mother and her children

By a judge's order, Abbie Dorn's triplets will visit her yearly. It's a fair solution to a difficult case.

March 29, 2011

Nearly five years ago, Abbie Dorn, a happily expectant mother, went into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to give birth to triplets. The babies were born healthy, but a series of devastating medical errors left Dorn profoundly brain damaged. She lives on, semiconscious, a paraplegic unable to speak but capable of blinking, moving her head, smiling. She is ministered to with a fierce devotion by her mother and father in their home in South Carolina, aided by a retinue of caregivers financed by part of an $8-million malpractice settlement. Dan Dorn, the father of the children, advised by doctors to move on with his life, divorced her three years ago and cares for the 4-year-olds as a single parent in Los Angeles.

As if that weren't enough, the father and grandmother have battled in court for much of the past year over whether — and when — the children should visit their mother. The grandmother claimed visits would be beneficial for mother and children and asked for four weeks each year. The father contended that visits could be psychologically damaging for the children and shouldn't take place until they are a few years older.

In December, Dan Dorn did take the children to see their mother in an attempt to reach a settlement. And before this case went to hearing earlier this month, lawyers say both sides offered compromises on their original stands but came to no agreement. Underscoring this battle is the fact that they hold dramatically differing views on Abbie Dorn's level of consciousness.

On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick C. Shaller said it fell to the father to decide what his children are told about their mother. But he also ruled that Abbie Dorn should get one annual five-day visit from her children. The visits — supplemented by monthly Skype interactions — would not be detrimental to the children, he wrote. He also stated that as disabled as she is, the mother is not an "unfit parent" without rights to visitation. The first visits will start this summer, the judge ordered.

We applaud the judge's conclusion that the triplets deserve a relationship with their mother before she dies. "They can touch her, see her, bond with her, and can carry these memories with them," he wrote.

Looking out for children doesn't necessarily mean shielding them from unpleasant or complicated things. In this case, the children may come away not just with memories but with an empathy that will hold them in good stead for the rest of their lives. Technically, this is an interim ruling before a full trial. But if both sides are as pleased with the ruling as they say they are, perhaps they should drop further litigation, let this decision stand and concentrate on how to make the most of the precious time the children will have with their mother.

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