Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Baby Swapping

Some Non-Paternity Events are the result of what might be called baby swapping. That is, one baby is substituted for another.

For the last century or so many children have been born in hospitals rather than at home. Babies are kept in nurseries with many others and delivered to their mothers periodically to be fed. Despite precautions, sometimes babies get mixed up and the switch is not recognized. In one notorious case, two baby girls were switched and the substitution was not recognized for more than a decade. The substitution came to light when one of the girls died and it became apparent that the cause of death was an inherited condition. The family that thought she was their daughter could not have transmitted the disorder. Eventually, the other girl was identified – the mother in the family that she had been living with had died of the same disorder as the other daughter. DNA testing confirmed that the girls had been switched. The widower, the surviving girl and the biological parents were then faced with the dilemma of which family should be raising the girl. The girl chose to stay with the man who had raised her, at least initially.

The point of this tragic story is just that babies do get mixed up accidentally. It is also the case that sometimes the switch is done deliberately. For example, if a baby was a stillbirth or born sickly and died soon after birth, an orphaned or illegitimate baby was sometimes substituted. This might be done to insure an heir to a family or to simultaneously comfort the bereaved mother and solve the problem of the orphaned or bastard child. In either case, the substitution can result in DNA mismatches down the road. Hospital births and mandatory birth registration have reduced this deliberate substitution, but not eliminated it.

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