Ethics Quiz On A Story I’m Betting Is A Hoax: The “Identical Twins” Married Couple

I have now read three accounts in borderline news sources about a Mississippi married couple who went to a fertility clinic and discovered to their horror that they were “identical twins.” I’m assuming it is a fake news story, perhaps planted through collusion with the Trump campaign by Russian government operatives, and not just because identical twins cannot be different sexes. (Hey! Maybe one of them had  gender reassignment surgery! Now that would be a story!)

I suppose it’s possible; Robert Ripley found odder coincidences for decades, but never mind: let’s assume for the sake of ethics problem-solving practice that the story is true. (I’ll be stunned if it is.)

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

What is the couple’s most ethical course now that they know they are siblings, or is there one?

Key question: Is this ick rather than ethics?

Trap: I’m not asking what’s moral.

It’s all yours…

31 Comments

Filed under Bioethics, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Quizzes

31 responses to “Ethics Quiz On A Story I’m Betting Is A Hoax: The “Identical Twins” Married Couple

  1. Zanshin

    The couple’s most ethical course now is to ask a second opinion.
    And in the meantime postpone the “fertility process”

  2. Chris

    It would not be unethical for them to stay together, even though it would be “icky.” They did not know they were related, and were not raised together; the primary ethical reason we discourage incest is because it is damaging to families, but in this case that doesn’t apply.

    But it wouldn’t be unethical for them to divorce over this–if they can’t handle the “ick” factor, that would be perfectly understandable.

    I’d say it would be unethical to procreate together intentionally, if my understanding of the dangers to the child is up to date.

    • Spartan

      Yes. This is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezee Jack.

    • Ash

      I am not advocating they do this, but pretty sure I’ve read recently that dangers sibling incest to possible kids is mostly overstated. Especially if they’ve had genetic counseling.

      for instance:
      https://newrepublic.com/article/116802/strange-scholarship-incest

      “I’m not saying that it’s fine, but I think the genetic risks of incest are probably overestimated,” said Diane Paul, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston whose research focuses on the history of evolution and genetics. “In our paper, we collected all the studies that were available. In all the literature there are only 213 cases on reported outcomes of incest. That’s not very much to base any judgment on, but it looks like the risk of a child [born of an incestuous relationship] having a serious problem in the first few years of life is between 3 and 15 percent.”

      “It’s assumed it would be higher, but there’s a huge bias of ascertainment,” she explains. “If you have a baby [that’s the product of incest] with a problem, people say, ‘Oh, that’s why,’ but if the baby is healthy, no one says, ‘Look at that healthy baby’ [that’s the product of incest].”

      first cousins:

      http://theconversation.com/birth-defect-risk-for-children-of-first-cousins-is-overstated-15809

      more (link obfuscated since so many blogs have a two link limit)

      io9.gizmodo com/5863666/why-inbreeding-really-isnt-as-bad-as-you-think-it-is

      If this couple has no genetic diseases in their background, if they have genetic counseling, hey maybe it’s not a big deal medical wise.

      • Nothing stops them from adopting, either…except that Miss. views the marriage as illegal.

        • valkygrrl

          except that Miss. views the marriage as illegal.

          Remembering all the jokes about Mississippi and having been there I have to ask, since when?

      • It’s my understanding that single generation incest doesn’t carry a super elevated risk, but rather several generations worth of close relative inbreeding is what does it.

        But that understanding could be way off the mark.

        • Pennagain

          My understanding as well.

          We are barely beyond one generation into the deeper knowledge of what-happens-when as far as DNA-level inheritance goes — the first study happened within the lifetimes of most if not all of those who post on Ethics Alarms. Note: Understanding Our Genetic Inheritance: The Human Genome Project, The First Five Years, FY 1991-1995. Therefore, tossing around headline writers’ ideas/clickbait of second-hand pop science reports as if they can be casually translated into human physiology much less human behavior is misleading to say the least.

          Fascinating enough without the false embellishments, though. Inferences about the pharaonic dynasties, for instance, did not produce the entirely anticipated results. The mummy of the 19-year-old King Tut, fortunately for our curiosity’s sake interred with those of ten incestuously close relatives, generated a 5-generation family tree for that dynasty. Tut himself showed at least a dozen genetic disorders including an inability to breed successfully, thus becoming the last of his line. Cleopatra VII (think Elizabeth Taylor’s asp) was also, virtually, the end of her line. One of her four children did not survive to adulthood. The other three were allowed to survive … for some years, at Octovian’s whim … after her suicide. But she was the end product of 275 years of deliberate inbreeding!*

          On the whole, it seems to depend on the nature of whatever particular defective genes have been passed on. There are plenty of shorter-term examples of both in European royal histories. Stillbirths also tend to crop up in families up to the beginning of the 20th Century, at which time large families in general began to decline…. but then, stillbirths tend to crop up in large families sooner or later even today (especially in families without close medical supervision)

          Thus, i.e., e.g., viz, etc.: we do not have results accurate enough for long-term prediction OR hindsight. Yet.

          *The exclamation point jumped into my mind considering what it might be like if our Presidents were genetic offspring of the Washingtons . . . .

          • if our Presidents were genetic offspring of the Washingtons

            Uhhh…. that would actually explain a lot… in a secret conspiracy tin foil hats sort of way…

            /snark

  3. Wayne

    Well, they could be a gay couple of either sex. I guess technically it would be incest but I guess they could move to West Virginia or somewhere. This does go beyond kissing cousins though.

  4. If it’s factually true…

    Siblings cannot legally be married; therefore, the state must void their marriage.

    Everything else is irrelevant including the ick factor.

  5. The couple lacks mens rea for the crime of incest, but under Miss. law, if that’s really the state, the marriage is void. Now they are like any other brother or sister in the eyes of the law, and the usual laws apply.

  6. “Trap: I’m not asking what’s moral.”

    That sounds like a passive-aggressive cynic add…

    • Does it? Not my intent. I’m asking what the right thing to do is, moral codes aside. Moral codes hold incest to be a sin, and details don’t matter. Stipulated: they have no options morally speaking.

      Ethically, an argument can be made that is they regard each other as husband and wife, do not conceive, and form a loving, stable bond, there is no harm that comes from them living as man and wife…someplace other than Mississippi.

  7. John Billingsley

    If true, they would have to be fraternal not identical twins. The woman could be inseminated with donor sperm so no increased risk of genetic problems. They would have to live together without benefit of wedlock but it’s not like that would be anything new. There have been cultures where sibling marriage has been encouraged at least among royalty. Egypt and Hawaii to name two. To answer the question I would say not unethical.

    • The state says “living together as man and wife” is enough to trigger the statute.

      • John Billingsley

        So if they know they are brother and sister and are aware of the laws of the state, they will be acting unethically to stay together as man and wife, even unmarried, because they will be purposefully breaking the law and breaking the law is unethical. That would be true even if the state didn’t have the genetic information. All 50 states make consensual incest itself illegal so there is no state they could move to and have sexual relations and not break the law whether married or not. I think the moral question here is more complex than the ethical because the ethical simply seems to boil down to are they breaking the law? If so, the only ethical course is to act so as to not break the law.

        “Moral codes hold incest to be a sin, and details don’t matter.”
        Pretty much everyone 50 years ago would say the same about homosexuality, same sex marriage, and other sexual issues and a great many people still would. I don’t think there is any logical reason to distinguish consensual incest from any of the other acts that have been considered sins based on various moral codes. Do the people practicing those other sexual activities have “no options morally speaking”?

        In many countries consensual incest is legal including France, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands although I don’t believe any of them allow incestuous marriage. Should something which two consenting adults do that doesn’t harm others be illegal because a moral code finds it to be immoral? Professor Volokh wrote on this topic and basically answered no.

        Thank you for a thought provoking post and a Happy Easter to you and your family.

  8. Jeff H.

    As an identical twin, I should probably chime in, huh?

    I was going to type something out about love and reproduction, but… no, fuck it. I don’t believe this one. Identical twins are always the same gender, barring something radical. I just don’t believe this is true, and if it IS true, then it’s such a corner case, then I’ll let them do whatever they want. Get married, have babies with one chromosome, clone themselves and have sex with the clones, what the hell ever.

    I’m more afraid of trying to make sense of this practically impossible situation and trying to make it jive with the rest of my feelings about sexuality and what’s right. Taking crazy edge cases that are one-in-a-billion like this and trying to use it to set a moral or ethics compass is folly. Some things are just tragic, and the only thing we could do is somehow make it worse.

    The only way this could be more tragic is if they fell in love and found out later that they were conjoined twins. Now that would be a shock.

    • Pennagain

      The only way this could be more tragic is if they fell in love and found out later that they were conjoined twins.

      Especially if it was discovered while they were still joined.

  9. Just to be nit-picky, they can’t be identical twins if they are a man and a woman. Fraternal twins.

    • It’s not picky when you point out WHAT WAS ALREADY NOTED IN THE POST!

    • Oh, it’s not being nit-picky when your correction WAS ALREADY IN THE POST! You know, as in, “I’m assuming it is a fake news story, perhaps planted through collusion with the Trump campaign by Russian government operatives, and not just because identical twins cannot be different sexes.

      And the fact that I put “identical twins,” which was how the stories I read termed them, in quotes TWICE.

      Not nit-picky at all!

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