by guest contributor Kay Olson, originally published at The Gimp Parade
Back in March the story of the Andrews family of Long Island came to public attention. The NY Daily News announced “What a mess, baby: Parents say fertility clinic botched in-vitro & girl’s got the wrong dad“.
[Note from Carmen: Racialicious covered it too.]
The story came to public notice in March because a judge ruled the couple can precede with their medical malpractice lawsuit but disallowed the claims of mental suffering — the parents’ suffering and baby Jessica’s suffering for being a different race than her parents. There’s a lot to unpack here and The Nation‘s Patricia Williams took a stab at it:
What’s distinctive about the Andrews case is that the parents… tried to cite… Jessica’s pain and suffering for having to endure life as a black person. The Andrewses expressed concern that Jessica “may be subjected to physical and emotional illness as a result of not being the same race as her parents and siblings.” They are “distressed” that she is “not even the same race, nationality, color…as they are.” They describe Jessica’s conception as a “mishap” so “unimaginable” that they have not told many of their relatives. (Telling the tabloids all about it must have come easier.) “We fear that our daughter will be the object of scorn and ridicule by other children,” the couple said, because Jessica has “characteristics more typical of African or African-American descent.” So “while we love Baby Jessica as our own, we are reminded of this terrible mistake each and every time we look at her…each and every time we appear in public.”
Since the claim of mental distress of their child hinges on appearance and public perceptions of skin color, Williams comments on the family’s photo:
The picture underscores the embedded cultural oddities of this case, the invisibly shifting boundaries of how we see race, extend intimacy, name “difference.” According to the Post, Mrs. Andrews is “Hispanic” and apparently, by the paper’s calculations, one Hispanic woman plus one white man equals “a white pair.” The mother is “a light-skinned native of the Dominican Republic,” seeming to indicate that while she may not be “white,” she’s also not “black.” Each narrative implies that if the correct sperm had been used, the Andrewses would have been guaranteed a lighter-skinned child. But as most Dominicans trace their heritage to some mixture of African slaves, indigenous islanders and European settlers, and as dark skin color is a dominant trait, it could be that the true sperm donor is as “white” as Mr. Andrews. But that possibility is exiled from the word boxes that contain this child. Not only is Jessica viewed as being of a race apart from either of her parents; she is even designated a different nationality–this latter most startling for its blood-line configuration of citizenship itself.
Paul Butler at BlackProf discusses the race issue as well.
If I understand the legal situation correctly, the parents’ claim of mental suffering is essentially a “wrongful conception” or “wrongful birth” claim and their suit on behalf of Baby Jessica’s mental suffering is a “wrongful life” claim. New York state, where the case resides, has precedence in these situations, which Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam cited in her ruling. Regarding the “wrongful birth” claim: Read the Post Race as disability: an update on fertility clinic mixup case