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Recently, my husband and I viewed the Netflix 2018 DVD THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. As it began, I wondered how the documentarians would be able to squeeze enough story together to make a good film about identical triplets who only accidentally discover they were adopted out to different families shortly after birth in 1961. As young adults, they find one another, enjoy their comradery and similarities, and THE END. Right? No. Like most people, I hadn’t considered the implications.
The truth is a psychiatrist (now deceased) designed and delivered a longitudinal study of identical twins and triplets divided at birth and raised by families with contrasting parenting styles and socio-economic situations. The separations were deliberate. Who wouldn’t endorse a parenting study, right? But no one anticipated the damaging separation anxiety experienced by the divided twins or the history of mental illness in their birth parents that could be passed down. No one thought it necessary to tell the adoptive families or the children so they could anticipate potential issues. No one considered what was different about the personalities of the matching individuals, because they were too dazzled by superficial similarities. The adoptive families were livid. The children suffered into adulthood. Some of the consequences were and continue to be tragic.
The perpetrators refused to share the study report with the unwitting participants until the documentary film forced them. They had planned to keep the experiment sealed until 2066. Spoiler alert: The only meaningful information concluded children experiencing separation anxiety need hugely loving parents to cope with the trauma. Your inherited traits are softened by your life experiences. For that bit of knowledge, an unknown number of biologically paired individuals and their adoptive families were treated as guinea pigs. Other victims of the separations remain in the general population, never to be told they have twins somewhere. (You could be one of them and never know.)
We think of the Holocaust when we talk of experiments on humans, but Nazis weren’t the only ones to use people as pawns without their permission. Some have heard of the horrific American syphilis study using black men or the deliberate exposure of American towns to radiation or the more recent switch to using contaminated water for the residents of Flint, Michigan. I think the literal kidnapping of children from their immigrant parents in an attempt to discourage asylum seekers qualifies as a particularly amoral experiment imperiling the permanent emotional stability of thousands. People make lousy experimental subjects because they represent too many variables.
These are, sadly, only a few of many examples—known and still secret—of authorities (sometimes directly from our government) who feel justified in taking chances with the lives of others. The key word is others. As long as the ones being injured can be viewed as others, some authorities feel justified. We object to experimentation on animals, but perhaps we need to also uncover and counter experimentation on human beings. There are no others. There are only people like us.