A Woman With Down Syndrome Divorces Her Parents

Jenny Hatch, a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome, had been living in a series of group homes in Virginia. Her parents were content with that arrangement. Jenny, however, was not, and had run away on several occasions. After injuring herself in a bike accident, she temporarily went to live with a couple, Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, who had hired her to work in their thrift store. She wanted to keep working for her friends and living with them, and it was mutual.

Jenny’s mother and stepfather, however, thought the safest place for Jenny was in a group home, The Washington Post reported. They filed for guardianship requesting, among other things, the right to decide where she lives, the medical treatment she’d receive and whom she could see. Jenny’s grandmother testified that it was her parents’ longtime care and attention that has enabled Jenny to do as well as she is.

The judge presiding over the case had to rule on whether Jenny was in need of a guardian, and who was best fit for that role. On Friday, he decided that Jenny needed a guardian to help make decisions, given her IQ of about 50—but he also wanted to abide by her wishes. And so, he designated Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert her temporary guardians for a year.

Disability advocates have watched the case closely, as it about an individual’s right to choose how to live and the government’s role in including people with special needs in communities. As the parent of a child with special needs, I watched this closely, too. Even though I understood her parents’ desire to protect their daughter, in the end, it seemed so wrong to deny her desires. Jenny may be intellectually disabled but she is fully capable of having intent, desires and wishes—and entitled to her rights. Indeed, an expert who testified on Jenny’s behalf called the guardianship requests “a kind of civil death.”

When Jenny heard the ruling, she had this to say: “I’m so happy to go home today. I deserve it. It’s over. My God, it’s over.” The attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union spoke of Jenny’s independence, freedom and dignity. As she said, “Disability is no excuse to deprive someone of her basic civil liberties.”

What are your thoughts on the case?

From my other blog:

Dear President Obama: My child has so much more than grit

9 car games to boost your child’s speech development

On getting sucked into special needs parent self-pity


Image: Justice for Jenny Facebook page

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