Jessica's tragedy

Mona Charen

April 06, 1993|By Mona Charen

JESSICA DeBoer is 24 months old -- happy, playful, full of discovery -- and she is about to suffer a tragedy. She will lose both of her parents simultaneously, as well as her home, her grandparents, her playmates, her dog and her familiar surroundings. Uncomprehending, this child will be sent to live with strangers in another state.

This is not clairvoyance. It hasn't been vouchsafed to me that Jessica's parents will die in a car crash or drown in a boating accident. This is a man-made tragedy. The courts of Iowa and Michigan have decreed that this little girl be wrenched from her family -- the only family she has known since birth -- and surrendered to her biological parents.

How can this happen? Because the courts, in the grip of the same permissive philosophy that has destroyed criminal justice in this country, decline to hold adults accountable for the decisions they make, yet are content to make children suffer for those decisions.

Cara Clausen (now Schmidt), Jessica's birth mother, surrendered her baby for adoption at birth. Several hospital witnesses say she voluntarily waived the 72-hour waiting period and signed all the papers two days after Jessica's birth. She did something else as well. She lied about the identity of the birth father. The wrong man's signature was accordingly obtained on papers permitting Jan and Roberta DeBoer to get custody of Jessica pending a formal adoption.

Weeks after Jessica had been placed with the DeBoers, Cara attended a meeting of Concerned United Birthparents, an organization of bitter and unhappy birth parents and adoptees who radically oppose adoption under any circumstances. Seizing upon news that Cara had named the wrong man on surrender documents, they saw an opportunity to undo the adoption.

And so Dan Schmidt, the true biological father, was informed of his paternity and urged to pursue his rights to the child.

Though supporters of the Schmidts (the birth parents have since married and expect a new baby in June) argue that Dan was ignorant of his paternity, it is a fact that he and Cara worked in the same company and he saw her progressing pregnancy. Arithmetic, anyone?

Why didn't the DeBoers surrender their daughter as soon as they learned of Cara's change of heart? Because Cara's rights had been terminated by Iowa. Pending determination of Dan's paternity, Jessica would go into foster care. Moreover, Dan had a history of abandoning two other children he had sired by two other women. Loving their daughter, the DeBoers couldn't permit that. So they waited for the courts to make a determination about what would be best for the child.

That determination never came. The Iowa Supreme Court said it would be "alluring" to decide on the best interests of the child, but that such a judgment could not be made in the absence of evidence of abandonment by the biological father. The Michigan Court of Appeals has now supported Iowa's jurisdiction and also ruled that the child must be sent to her biological parents.

So Cara lied, and Dan failed to show interest in his possible offspring until after she had been placed in an adoptive home. Two adults made bad decisions. Yet they will not be required to accept the consequences. The child will pay -- not they.

The outlook for Jessica is not good. Not only will she undergo the grief of losing everything she loves, she will also be placed with people who have naive beliefs about the bonds biology affords. Cara has told reporters that she is sure the child will know her. The grief-stricken Jessica -- needing a great deal of special attention -- will move into a home with a newborn baby. Her father will continue to provide court-ordered support for two older children, one of whom he has never seen, the other he avoided for several years.

What is the moral for society? Women who give up babies for adoption now have every incentive to lie. Late-arriving birth fathers can disrupt the lives of their offspring for their own selfish reasons. No adoption is ever final. And children are mere chattel -- their needs, their suffering and their grief do not count.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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