Again I’m digressing to write briefly about something rather topical. There’s a story by Francisco Goldman in the current issue of the New Yorker about using DNA testing to trace the childen stolen from their parents in Argentina. I’m afraid it is available on-line only if you have a subscription so I cannot link to it. (I do have a subscription, but I respect the copyright.)
I’ve written about the dirty war in Argentina before. The New Yorker story includes vivid and harrowing details. As a part of that war, the military government murdered many opponents, but if they captured pregnant women or infants or young children, they stole the children and placed them with new families–often with families where men had been involved in the murder and torture of the parents.
It is quite horrifying and Argentina has spent a long time coming to grips with it. DNA testing has allowed some of the surviving grandmothers to locate the stolen children. That’s the general subject I’ve written about in the past.
But this particular story brings with it a new complication to think about. The story focuses in part on Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera. They are adopted children of roughly the right age. They were adopted by Ernistina Herrera de Noble, widow of a powerful newspaper owner and herself a powerful person.
One thing I found myself thinking about: Marcela and Felipe did not wish to undergo DNA testing. Do they have a right to decline? If so, why? If not, why not? The story considers several reasons why adults who might be children of the disappeared might resist testing. In general, they have not been allowed to do so, however, and eventually the adult children here were tested as well. (They do not appear to match any of the families of the disappeared that have been identified.)
I understand there is a lot of complexity here and I’d like to tread carefully. I generally accept the idea that the voices of those most directly involved need to be heard and at least respected even if not obeyed. Thus, in a totally other context, those who are donor-conceived want the right to be heard.
Now as is often and perhaps even always the case, there are other voices to be heard as well. The voices of the grandmothers, for example, in Argentina. And the voice that speaks for all of us and seeks truth and justice, however elusive those goals may be.
The problem is how to choose among the voices if they do not all seek the same thing. This brings me back to the question in Argentina: Do you mandate genetic testing over the wishes of the person whose genes are to be tested? Perhaps you do so in the name of greater truth and justice? Or in the name of the rights of the grandmothers? Or do you decide that the now-adults who were once the children aren’t competent to decide–because their own views have been distorted? (This last makes me particularly uncomfortable.)
I think the fact the tests came out negative–showing no genetic connection to any of the families of the disappeared–is probably beside the point. You cannot know the outcome of the testing before you do the test. For me the greater challenge is to articulate the circumstances under which a person should be subjected to testing over their own objection. Does the experience of others who have been reluctantly tested but come to embrace the process tell us we should override the objections of others? Or is that a ground on which people should be persuaded to cooperate.
You can see how unsettled I am about all this and so I’ll just leave it for now.