January 23, 2017
Kidnapped at Birth
by Professor Bonnie Steinbock
On January 13, 2017, Alexis Manigo learned that Gloria Williams, the woman who raised her, has been charged with kidnapping her when she was eight hours old. Alexis also learned that her birth name was Kamiyah Mobley.
In 1998, a woman posing as a nurse at University Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida told the young mother, sixteen-year-old Shanara Mobley, that her baby had a fever and needed some tests. She then walked out of the hospital and disappeared.
Cases like this one are extremely rare. “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has tracked 308 infant abductions since 1983 by nonfamily members in the U.S.” (“Woman Stolen at Birth Learns True Identity; ‘Momma’ Charged.” http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/01/13/us/ap-us-stolen-infant-found.html.) Nevertheless, such cases raise a question common in both law and reproductive ethics: who are the real parents?
This question can arise in a range of contexts. A surrogate mother changes her mind, and seeks custody of the child after birth. A lesbian couple split up, after raising a child together, and go to court over custody and visitation rights. A man, unaware that his former girlfriend was pregnant with his child, seeks custody after learning that the child has been adopted (the so-called “thwarted father” cases). A couple undergoing IVF discovers that one of their embryos has been mistakenly implanted in another woman, and seek custody over the resulting child.
The law has traditionally regarded genetic ties as the determining factor.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.