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Quadriplegic Mom Fights Discrimination to Keep Son

wheelchairShe can’t feel anything from the chest down or move her fingers independently, and yet quadriplegic Kaney O’Neill is the mother of a five-month-old bouncing baby boy.

It’s a child she may lose as her ex-boyfriend prepares for a custody battle that could make a major precedent for disabled parents everywhere.

O’Neill’s miracle pregnancy was chronicled by the Chicago Tribune earlier this year, and now the paper is sharing the story of her fight to keep her son, Aidan.

The story? O’Neill was knocked from a balcony during 1999′s Hurricane Floyd, leaving her a quadriplegic. But she contends her disability benefits and a company she owns will help provide financially for her child while her full-time caregivers – including members of her immediate family and a service dog – help her provide for Aiden in a physical sense (and a Tribune photo shows she does have some abilities for basic tasks – she’s seen feeding the baby boy with a spoon).

On the other side is her ex, David Trais, who says simply that O’Neill can’t do everything necessary to raise a child in  her limited state. He’s got some back up from experts who agree that the rights of a child supersede the protected rights of the disabled not to be discriminated against.

The whole story plays out in the Tribune story – you can read it here – but most interesting is the reference to the 1979 case Carney v. Carney, a California Supreme Court decision that granted a paralyzed father custody of his two sons despite a lower court’s assertion that a disabled father couldn’t play baseball, go fishing, etc. with his sons.

Said the Supreme Court decision: “The essence of parenting is not to be found in the harried rounds of daily carpooling endemic to modern suburban life or even in the doggedly dutiful acts of togetherness committed every weekend by well-meaning fathers and mothers across America. Rather, its essence lies in the ethical, emotional and intellectual guidance the parent gives the child throughout his formative years, and often beyond.”

That’s the type of precedent O’Neill’s lawyers will have to use in their fight, and its solid grounding goes beyond the disabled parent. Think what it says for a working parent, for example – that they don’t have to be there for carpool duties or scraped knees at noon, but for the more nebulous portions of parenting.

While O’Neill may have to hire someone at all times to come in and do the heavy lifting with her son (quite literally), a set of working parent does the same – simply in a shorter time period each day. Provided we have the financial means, that’s not grounds for us to lose our kids.

Trais’ arguments may well hold water – it will be up to a judge to decide. If nothing else, it’s healthy for a child to have two parents, even if they aren’t together in an emotional sense.

But is it the ability to pick a child up when they fall down what makes a parent, or is it what we say when they’re lying, crying in our arms, that determines who is Mommy vs. who is a mother?

Image: man pikin via flickr

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