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Woman with Down syndrome Achieves Victory in Guardianship Case

Individuals with developmental disabilities and disability advocates achieved a significant victory recently when a Virginia judge rejected a guardianship request from the parents of a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome.

Jenny Hatch’s mother and stepfather filed a guardianship proceeding in August 2012 after trying to avoid taking care of her for several years.  Ms. Hatch opposed the guardianship and argued that she should receive assistance from her friends and not from her parents if the court believed she needed assistance.

Despite Ms. Hatch’s wishes to move in with friends and continue the life she had, her mother and stepfather wanted her to remain in a group home, where she would be supervised and protected. In addition to testing the rights of individuals to make their own life decisions, Ms. Hatch’s case pitted her wishes against those of her own parents.

Essentially this case was about two questions:

  1. Was Ms. Hatch an incapacitated adult in need of a guardian?
  2. And, if so, who would best serve in that role?

These are two very important questions that the court must decide before it can take away an individual’s right to choose how they want to live, and give that authority to another person. The court has a responsibility to provide the help needed to integrate adults with developmental disabilities into the community.

In New York, the guardianship proceeding that designates a guardian to act on behalf of an individual with intellectual or developmental disabilities after that person has turned 18 is called an Article 17-A Guardianship, and is brought in the Surrogate Court. Like the case of Ms. Hatch, the court must be satisfied that the guardianship is necessary and in the best interest of the person.

It is a difficult decision whether to bring a guardianship proceeding in any situation. Every individual has rights that should not be taken away unless it is absolutely necessary and in their best interest, regardless of their capabilities.

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