DNA in Argentina, II

In a comment on an earlier post Karen provided a link to this article.   I thought it was worth writing about.  As with an earlier post, the background to this story is the “dirty war” waged by the Argentinian dictatorship against political dissidents from 1976-83.  

 Thousands of people “disappeared” during that period.   In addition, in many instances (some say as many as 500) infants were taken from prisoners and placed with selected families–presumably those supportive of the dictatorship.   Surviving  family members, including the mothers of the disappeared,  have sought to locate these children by collecting and matching DNA samples. 

My earlier post was spurred by a report of one effort to collect DNA.   In that story, it was not entirely clear that all those involved were equally interested in discovering the truth.  The report I’ve linked to today tells a very different tale.

Francisco Madariaga Quintela was taken from his mother, Silvia Quintela, the day after his birth in 1977.   (She had been snatched off the street by army officers, while her husband, Abel Madariaga, had managed to flee.  Shortly after the baby was born, Silvia disappeared from prison, presumably murdered.)

Francisco was taken by a military intelligence officer who gave the baby to his wife.   They didn’t tell the child he was adopted.    The officer was a violent man and the marriage did not last.  Eventually Francisco learned the truth and in early February he had DNA testing done.

Meanwhile, his father, Abel Madariaga, had survived and returned to Argentina.  He devoted himself to finding the missing children.    He met his own son, who is now 33, for the first time last week.  (The father is now 59.) 

It’s an amazing story with a terrific ending.   Using DNA testing allowed these two men to find one another and to know their relationship with certainty.   It allowed them to solve the mystery of what had happened to the child born to Silvia Quintela.  

To me, it’s useful to think of the two reports from Argentina together.   DNA can tell you many things.  It can tell you about the past, for example.  It can tell you about historical truth–this is the child born to this woman, for example.    

But that knowledge may not always be welcome, or it might be more welcome to some of those involved than to others.   (I’m thinking here of Felipe and Marcela Noble, the subjects of the first story.)    We tend to think about (or at least, the discussion tends to focus on) the right of the child to find the genetic parent.  But reading about events in Argentina, it seems clear that there are instances where it is equally, if not more, important for the parent (or grandparent) to locate the child.  

This leads me to think about the relative rights of adults and children, or perhaps more particularly parents and children.   The rights or interests of a child are often invoked in law and in policy making.  After all, who can argue against the rights of an innocent child, who has no hand in the situation she/he finds him/herself in?   

Yet that analysis is incomplete.   A child may well have rights and we ought to care about what is in the child’s best interests.   But is that determined child by child, because what is in the best interests of one child may not be in the best interests of the next.   And perhaps, too, we need to think about the interests of the adults involved.   All just food for thought.


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