One of the hottest topics in bioethics today is the issue of “genetic orphans” – children created from gametes from anonymous donors. Supporters of anonymous donation find it hard to understand the distress of the children. However, a verdict this week in an Argentine court shows the power of genetic ties.
The former president of Argentina, Jorge Rafael Videla, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his role in abducting infants from their mothers and adopting them out to military families. As he is 86 and already serving a life sentence for other crimes against humanity, he is likely to die behind bars.
Two other senior officials received jail terms for their involvement in the abductions. The last leader of the military junta, Reynaldo Bignone, was sentenced to 15 years, and former navy officer Jorge Acosta to 30 years. Videla denied that there was a plan to separate babies from their mothers. He told the court that the women had been “terrorists”. “All those who gave birth, who I respect as mothers, were active militants in the machinery of terrorism. They used their children as human shields,” he said.
An estimated 500 baby thefts took place during the “dirty war” waged by Argentina’s military junta on leftist guerrillas. Pregnant women who were arrested were delivered in an army maternity ward while shackled and hooded and later were tossed, alive, from planes over the South Atlantic. They never saw their child. Through the efforts of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of the missing women, more than a hundred of the babies – now all in their 30s -- have been reunited with their blood families.
The sentence brought to an end a 16-year trial in which prosecutors proved that the adoptions were part of an orchestrated plan to wipe out the guerrillas. "The kidnapping of newly born babies is the last crime that former members of the military regime are willing to admit," British journalist Robert Cox, who worked for the English-language daily, the Buenos Aires Herald, in the 1970s, told The Guardian. “They try to make it sound as if they were being humane in saving the kids, but the kidnapping of babies is the one thing that even the most right-wing fascist-minded supporters of the dictatorship condemn."
"I think the Grandmothers, now all in their 80s, deserve the Nobel peace prize for their brave and untiring work," said Cox.
The unveiling of dark family secrets ripped families apart. A former captain, Victor Gallo, and his ex-wife, Susana Colombo, were sentenced to 15 and 5 years in jail, respectively. The child they adopted, Francisco Madariaga, testified against them and said he hoped their sentences would set an example. “The theft of babies was the most evil thing the dictatorship did,” he said. “I have a black spot in my heart, but we must continue filling it with love.” ~ AP, July 5; Guardian, July 5
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