Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 1999 / 9 Kislev, 5760
Put the babies first
MANKIND RARELY DISAPPOINTS the pessimist.
It is not surprising that in an infamous switched-baby
case the families, whom I once praised for selflessness,
ultimately abandoned the high road and hired lawyers.
What is surprising is that the court did the right thing.
The judge sent the feuding adults home and, at least for
now, has left the babies' psyches intact. A horror story
comes to a noble, if not strictly happy, end.
The case -- a script made for bad TV -- came to light in
August 1998 when an unmarried mother sought genetic
testing for a paternity suit. Paula Johnson discovered not
only that her then-boyfriend wasn't Daddy but also she
wasn't even Mommy.
Her baby, the one she birthed in 1995 at the University
of Virginia Medical Center, had gone home with another
couple, who later were killed in an automobile accident.
Callie, whom Johnson is raising, is actually the child of
the dead couple. Johnson's bio-baby, named Rebecca,
is being raised by the parents of the dead couple.
One can only imagine the agony of discovering that the
child you've raised and loved is not your own, and that
your flesh and blood is being raised by strangers.
Yet the two families initially handled their confusion and
grief with exceptional dignity.
They met, exchanged stories, photos and hugs and made
the right decision: Both children would stay with the
families they knew and loved. Johnson would have a
relationship with her biological child, Rebecca, but
agreed not to uproot her.
The fact that these former strangers reached such a
sensible agreement without lawyers or litigation
prompted me to write a celebratory column, soon to be
tinder for my first fall fire.
During the past several months, I've followed the
progress (regress?) of the two families as disputes
evolved. The grandparents who had custody of Rebecca
denied Johnson visits with the child, saying they feared
the mother would kidnap the child. Johnson sued for
It is impossible to doubt Johnson's love for both of her
children -- the one she raised and the one she bore. No
one can fault the woman for wanting to have a larger
role in her biological daughter's life. It also is easy to
understand the grandparents' fears.
Even so, no matter how the hearts and minds of adults
may suffer and rue, only the children matter. You don't
take a child from the only home she knows. Biology is
not more important than family, stability and love.
That was true with Baby Richard and Baby Jessica and
all the other less famous babies out there whose luck or
misfortune landed them in loving, adoptive homes only to
be ripped away by bad law, bad judgment and
egocentric gratification masquerading as biological
So, apparently, thought Juvenile and Domestive
Relations Judge John B. Curry II of Virginia. He ruled
last week that Rebecca will stay with her grandparents
and continue to develop a relationship with Johnson. To
do otherwise, according to a psychologist's testimony,
would damage the child, who has suffered much loss.
The fighting is far from over, unfortunately. The fate of
Callie -- the child Johnson has raised as her own -- is
now up for grabs. Both Johnson and one set of
grandparents have filed for custody of the child. Let's
hope Curry gets the case. Let's hope too that everyone
steers clear of the higher courts, which often in the past
have reversed similar sane orders.
The pessimist wishes to be
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
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©1999, Tribune Media Services