There have been a number of developments sinceI first posted about this case, and since I haven’t gotten back to the comments until now anyway, I thought I’d just play catch up in another post. This from yesterday’s NYT says that the woman who took the child (Ann Pettway) has surrendered herself and acknowledged her actions. In addition, there are more details about how Carlina White came to learn the truth of her origins.
These developments leave me with a few new thoughts/observations. Of course, I suspect all there is more to learn and so things could look different in a week.
Some of the more recent stories have acknowledged some sort of significant relationship did exist between Carlina White and the woman who kidnapped and then raised her. Of course it must be so. However wrongful the origins of the relationship, it’s clear that Anne Pettway raised Carlina White for 22 years and more than any other person, acted as a parent during that time.
Now I see there are many grounds to criticize the relationship–it rested on a falsehood (that White had been given to Pettway legitimately) and commenced with a kidnapping. Even so, I don’t think we can discard that relationship. I’m not sure what to make of it, but surely it meant (and means) something to White. This isn’t the ordinary kidnapping where ransom is sought. And as so often seems to be the case in family law matters, the passage of time is crucial. Surely we would all agree that the case where Pettway is apprehended within hours of her departure is different from the case where 22 years elapse?
If I’m consistent with my general determination to try and see the reality of the child’s life, then where will that take me? Don’t get me wrong–I do not want to reward wrongful conduct if it is continued for long enough. But I do see that this is a problem I must address. It’s worth untangling the threads here and considering, for example, the degree to which Pettway’s performance as a parent (apart from the wrongful origin of the relationship) matters. And what if the wrongful actor weren’t Pettway but was instead someone who deceived Pettway about White’s origins? If Pettway were morally blameless, how would we think about this?
It also seems to me that the better-developed version of events makes the “it’s all about DNA point” somewhat weaker. It sounds like there were concrete reasons for White to suspect the veracity of Pettway’s story of her origins. And of course, she’s only just met the people with whom she does have a genetic relationship. Under the circumstances, which are anything but ordinary, it’s impossible to say what sort of relationship they will forge or what that tells us about anything. I’m not saying that the DNA link is unimportant, just that it is difficult to know what importance to attribute to it at this point.