I haven’t followed every twist and turn of Jenny Hatch’s case, now decided in her favor, but here’s the quick summary.
a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome, wanted to live with two
friends, Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, and work in their thrift store.
Hatch’s verbal skills are great and she expressed this as clearly as
Hatch’s mother, for reasons I have not
quite untangled, had removed her from living with Morris and Talbert,
had placed in her a group home, and was trying to impose a highly
restrictive guardianship order on her daughter (including limiting with
whom she could come in contact and her movements).
easy to side with Jenny and her friends against her mother, so let’s
assume for a moment that all the principles here are people of goodwill
who are trying to do the right thing for Hatch. Let’s even assume that
Morris and Talbert are bad influences, driving a wedge between Jenny and
her family, taking advantage of Jenny’s naivete, or even trying to get
Jenny’s social security check! Let’s assume the mother in fact is right
that living in a group home would be the best thing for Jenny in both
the short and long term.
DISCLAIMER: I BELIEVE NONE OF THESE THINGS. NOW ON WITH THE THOUGHT EXERCISE.
Imagine, especially other parents of people with Down syndrome, that
this is your child, your child with whom you have played, laughed,
cried, and worked worked worked through so many thousands of hours of
therapy. Now she can talk. Now she can work. Now she’s healthy. And now she wants to leave.
And you know it’s the wrong thing for her.
But our children grow up.
much of my focus is on agency, how to help Nico in particular be his
own advocate, express his desires, and be active, not passive, in his
engagement with the world.
Hatch (note, not Jenny) is a
high-functioning 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome. She gets to make
her choices, even if they’re the wrong ones.
this case, I and the courts both think, Hatch was right in her decision
making. It’s also a precedent, and a powerful one, that helps shift more
agency towards people with disabilities, something both our culture and
our legal system badly needs. Here’s what the essay says:
Legally, Hatch’s case
came down to two questions: Was she an incapacitated adult in need of a
guardian, and, if so, who would best serve in that role — her mother
and stepfather, or Morris and Talbert?
But for national experts on
the rights of people with disabilities, several of whom testified on
Hatch’s behalf, the case was about much more. It was about an
individual’s right to choose how to live and the government’s progress
in providing the help needed to integrate even those with the most
profound needs into the community.
In the end, Newport News
Circuit Court Judge David F. Pugh said he believed that Hatch, who has
an IQ of about 50, needed a guardian to help her make decisions but that
he had also taken into account her preferences. He designated Morris
and Talbert her temporary guardians for the next year, with the goal of
ultimately helping her achieve more independence.
So this is good news.