From Justice for Jenny to justice for all
In what has become known as the Justice for Jenny case, Margaret “Jenny” Hatch, a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome, won the right to live and work where she wants, instead of having all her critical life decisions made for her by a guardian.
The right to direct our own lives is guaranteed to every citizen. But, because of her disability, Jenny spent a hard, lonely year living in a group home, against her will, cut off from her friends and the life she built in her community.
Like too many people with disabilities, Jenny faced a guardianship petition challenging her right to make decisions — choices she had always made for herself like where to live, what to do and who to see. The Court put her in a temporary guardianship and the guardians appointed by the court placed Jenny in a group home — where they took away her cell phone and laptop and wouldn’t let her see her friends. Jenny made it clear to everyone around her that she was not happy and did not want to live her life this way, but no one was listening. Jenny was told to forget about her old life and friends and get used to the new one. If the court had made the guardianship permanent, Jenny would have lost the fundamental right to direct her own life.
Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities was honored to serve as Jenny’s counsel.
In that role, we made sure her choices and perspective were known to the court. We showed the court that Jenny does not “need” a guardian because she has a history of making good decisions when given appropriate support. That support, known as “supported decision-making,” uses trusted friends, family members and professionals to help Jenny understand her situation and choices, so she can make her own well informed decisions.
Jenny won the right to make her own decisions using supported decision-making. She now lives and works where she wants, has the friends she chooses and encourages others to do the same.
The Justice for Jenny case was the first to Order the use of supported decision-making instead of plenary guardianship for a person with a disability and sets an important precedent for future cases.
Because there are so many other people like Jenny, Quality Trust launched the Jenny Hatch Justice Project (JHJP).
The JHJP is an integrated, multifaceted advocacy, resource and outreach center dedicated to advancing people with disabilities’ right to make their own decisions and choose their own paths, free from overbroad or undue guardianship. This first-of-its-kind effort will:
- protect the legal rights of people facing or in undue or overbroad
- advocate for changes in laws, policies and procedures to increase the use and acceptance of supported decision-making
- provide education and training programs on supported decision-making for people with disabilities, families, professionals and practitioners; and
- promote cutting-edge research on Supported Decision-Making.
At the Jenny Hatch Justice Project, we honor Jenny’s courage, commitment and triumph by seeking a society where people are valued for what they can do and where everyone is given an equal opportunity to shape their present and future.
On Oct. 24, 2013, we convened an invitation-only symposium bringing people with disabilities and family members together with legal, policy, research and practice leaders to identify action steps needed to advance the use and impact of supported decision-making. We welcome the opportunity to work with others throughout the country to make this vision a reality.