The “Baby Emma” Saga Revisited: The Core Issue

Didnt King Solomon have a case like this once?

When the mother of the child an unmarried father co-created with her decides that she doesn’t want to/ can’t raise the child and doesn’t trust the father to raise her, is it ethical to put said child up for adoption without notifying or consulting the father?

That is the ethical issue the “Baby Emma” incident, first discussed here in an earlier post, ultimately raises. It is a question that I did not discuss in that post, focusing instead on the father’s conduct and his current plight, as self-described on his “Baby Emma” website. I made three ethical assessments, each of which are self-evident:

1. The whole situation would have probably not occurred if John Wyatt and Baby Emma’s mother had been married before conceiving a child.

2. Both of them were irresponsible to plan on having a child together without formalizing a mutual commitment to form a family and raise the child together…that apparently archaic institution known as “marriage.”

3. The mother betrayed John’s trust, deceived him, and treated him unfairly.

I also suggested that, absent a marriage, it is fair and reasonable that the mother of a newborn be able to put the child up for adoption if she deems that course better for the child than being raised by the child’s father. I did not say that was the law, or even that I would vigorously oppose a law that directed otherwise, as Virginia’s law does. I only stated that my own belief is that incentives for irresponsible parenthood are unwise. I have been asked why I focused on the issue I did, rather than the other ethical issues raised by the controversy. It was because the issue was brought to me with the presumption that John Wyatt, the father, was a blameless and unequivocal victim in the matter. My ethics alarms sounded: he has significant ethical accountability for the mess, and I explained why.

As to the answer to question above, I can only say this: it depends. The conduct of Baby Emma’s mother is mysterious and extreme. Did she panic? Did she have a mental break? Why would a lifetime friend and partner of a man conceive a child, pretend to plan to raise her with him, and then secretly negotiate to have the baby adopted and taken out of state?

I see many scenarios that could be behind her decision, which fall into three distinct categories: ethical, unethical, and too close to call:

It would be unethical to put the child up for adoption without notifying the father if….

  • ….the mother knew she was violating the father’s legal rights, and there were no other factors outweighing them.
  • …the mother had always intended to give up the child, and had been leading the father along to believe otherwise without any justification, such as fear of violence.
  • …the mother changed her mind during the pregnancy, didn’t want to disappoint the father and was averse to conflict.
  • …the mother gave up the child for financial gain or other personal benefits.
  • …the mother gave up the child without considering the best interests of the child or the fitness of the adoptive parents.
  • …the mother gave up the child for revenge, in anger, out of hatred for the father, or for the purpose of intentionally hurting the father in any way.
  • ….adoption is inherently unethical and un-natural.

It would be ethical to put the child up for adoption without notifying the father if this could be accomplished without violating state law and….

  • …the mother had reason to believe that the father would become violent and harm her.
  • …the mother had been abused during the relationship.
  • …the mother had been coerced or intimidated by the father into conceiving  the child or having the child against her will.
  • …the mother had knowledge that the father would be an unfit parent due to addiction, emotional problems, untrustworthiness or a violent nature.

The ethics of giving the child up for adoption are too close to call if…

  • …the adoption was illegal under state law and she believed that her and/or the child’s health and safety would be at risk if the father were informed.

I have no idea which of these scenarios, if any, are correct. Reports that the mother now regrets her decision and is back together with the father are not helpful, for they could indicate an abusive relationship as well as a legitimate change of heart, and definitely indicate that the mother is prone to rash behavior.

12 thoughts on “The “Baby Emma” Saga Revisited: The Core Issue

  1. That’s just it, Jack. There are too many unanswered questions here. From what I can see in this mess, though, it appears that both parents are irresponsible and have been from the get-go. Have either professed any care for the child they conceived as they did beyond it being a tool for their own interests? It doesn’t appear so. On that basis, the child would likely be better off with foster parents.

    • Have either professed any care for the child they conceived as they did beyond it being a tool for their own interests? It doesn’t appear so.

      I think the whole issue exists because the father has adamantly professed care for the child. Beyond his words, I think the burden of proof is on you to show that his words were a tool for his own interests and not on him to prove that his words are true.

      At this point, the child may be better placed with the adoptive parents because of the age the child now is, over 2 years old.

      it appears that both parents are irresponsible and have been from the get-go.

      Irresponsible to have premarital sex? Sure. Is that enough to label and deem hopeless the father? No. More information about his irresponsibility would be needed to make that claim. Information that I suspect you don’t have.

      • Tim, that’s why I mentioned up front that the information is sketchy. For myself, I’d prefer that a child be raised with a natural parent (s) if possible. I was just speculating philosophically on the basis of what was provided. If the father IS of basically good character and DOES have a proven care for his daughter, then custody should devolve on him, as the mother is willing to forfeit her’s. If he is not, then the child should be granted to a foster couple who meet the requirements. But, as you say, that child is not getting any younger. For the sake of her healthy development, she needs good parents to bond with as soon as possible.

  2. How come Jodi Picoult hasn’t written a novel about this yet? How bout one that combines that story about the woman deliberately impregnating herself to keep a guy on the hook?

    (dear god if she writes that novel, you’ll find me hanging from a branch)

    • A lot of people are referring to the people holding Emma as “adoptive parents”. Please keep in mind that Emma has never been legally “adopted”. It’s certainly true that the Zarembinski’s would like to adopt her but that inconvience about the father having opposed it from day one and the state of Virginia (where she was born) affirming his right to raise her have prevented any legal adoption, even in Utah. In order for anyone to adopt Emma someone would have to nullify her father’s rights even though he never surrendured them or abandoned her or was found incompetent and even though Virginia affirms that he is her only legal guardian. Its certainly not impossible that Utah will decide against John and Emma, though if they do they would almost certainly use the arguement that too much time has now gone by and she has bonded with the people who want to adopt and want to adopt this particular child. They certainly could not say that John should lose his rights because he is unmarried and expect to be taken seriously by the rest of the country; so if they do decide against John, that’s the justification they will use. I would assume that if that happens the father will try to bring his case to the U.S Supreme Court but if he does there is no guarentee that they will agree to hear his arguement and even if they do God only knows how much more time will go by before they reach a decision. Only if Utah finds a reason to terminate John’s rights, dispite the fact that Virginia affirmed them years ago, and the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to consider the case or decides against him will Utah be able to consider Emma available for “adoption” by the Zarembinskis or anyone else. If all that were to happen you can be sure they would want to adopt her (although I can’t imagine what would happen if such a family ever left the state of Utah… much less went anywhere near Virginia. Regardless, all this would have to happen before the Zarimbinski’s would be able to begin to legally “adopt” Emma. Also Dateline will be doing a program on this story. Hopefully it will air within two months.

      • Or either the Utah parents or John could decide to stop tearing the child apart and give up their claims voluntarily, letting her begin having a normal life. Sadly, that would be the parent who loves her most, and there’s no King Solomon likely to show up any time soon.

  3. This is ridiculous. Ema needs to be with her real father and shame on anybody that thinks otherwise. She was literally stolen from him. Shame on the adoptive parent and may God have mercy on your soul.

  4. If she kept the child, she could demand child support, and he’d have to pay. Legally he’s considered the father, he should have the same rights as the mother. If the courts rule against John, he should have the option to sue and/or prosecute all of those involved. He was intentionally given the runaround, and all the parties involved knew it, including the adoptive parents. There should be some sort for justice for him. Fine everyone involved (heavily), and charge the birth mother with aiding a kidnapping. Do this a couple of times, and this crap will stop.

    • Our society allows a mother to kill her unborn child without the unwed father’s input, and yet views it as outrageous when the unmarried mother determines where and with whom her child will be safest after he’s born. Reconcile these two concepts, please, and they we’ll talk penalties. The mother didn’t trust John to be the father of her child. She knows him better than I do or you do, by John’s own words. I think you are being presumptuous.

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