April 24, 2024

The strange Canary Islands twin swap

Twins meet after 28 years

Pay close attention because what follows is
quite confusing, but it is almost certainly the plot of the next Jodi
Picault novel and has a Very Important Message. The story begins in
2001 in a department store in Las Palmas, one of two largish cities in
the Canary Islands, an outpost of Spain off the coast of Morocco.

A woman was working at a cash register when
an old friend made a purchase. To her disgust the friend looked
straight through her as if they had never met. Furious, she unburdened
herself to a girlfriend. In due course, this woman passed this on to
the shopper, who denied ever having been in the shop. This was relayed
back to the shop assistant.

A few days, the shopper, whose name was
Berta, returned a garment and the shop assistant plucked up the courage
to tell her that she was the mirror image of her friend Belén. Three
days later she introduced the two women.

Berta and Belén were struck by the
likeness. They discovered, too, that they had been born in the same
hospital in 1973, one on January 15 and the other on January 18. Belén
disclosed that although she did have a twin sister she didn’t look very
much like her. A dark cloud of suspicion hung over the horizon. 

What about a DNA test to dispel their
unease? Berta refused. However, after a couple of years of agonising
uncertainty, in 2004, a DNA test was done which showed that the women
were identical twins.

For Berta, the outcome was psychologically
devastating. Her legal parents refused to accept the result and she
broke off all contact with them. She fell into a depression and needed
psychiatric treatment.

“I would give anything to be the woman I was seven years ago,” she told the local newspaper.
I would like to get back my parents and my sisters, the family with
which I lived the best years of my life. Even though I met my
biological mother and sister, I can never treat them as mother and
sister. I just don’t feel the affection I feel for my legal family. I
would have preferred to remain ignorant. There is no money which can
compensate me for this.”

Earlier this year a court found that the
two babies must have been swapped in the neo-natal intensive care ward
of the now-defunct hosptal of Nuestra Senora del Pino. It awarded
360,000 Euros to Berta, who had lived apart from her biological family
for her whole life, and 180,000 to Belén, the twin who had remained
with her family. It also warded 180,000 Euros to the biological mother
of the twins and 180,000 Euros to the other woman who was taken from
her biological family.

The lawyer for the three women appealed to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child.
He pointed out that Articles 7 and 8 guaranteed “the right of the child
to preserve his or her identity” and the duty of the state to speedily
re-establish this in the event of a mishap.

The Very Important Message? In view of the
anguish suffered by these two women and their families and the court’s
decision in their favour, will the children born from the
ever-expanding permutations of assisted reproductive technology be able
to sue someone for denying them their identity? ~ EuropaPress, May 26, 2008; EuropaPress, Mar 31

Michael Cook
personal identity
rights of the child