Now for the rest of the story begun in Part I.
The story of the rejected and abandoned Russian orphan haunted “48 Hours” reporter Troy Roberts after he bid the girl farewell in the Russian hospital. He wanted to know what had become of her, and tried to track her down over the years, with no success. Then, after more than two decades had passed, Caralee reached out to him and they arranged to meet once again.
That supposedly homicidal little girl who was diagnosed as incapable of love now lives in North Carolina as Sabrina Caldwell. She is 33, happily married and has four young children. Roberts met with her near Sabrina’s home, and he spoke with her husband as well. Sabrina explained that she was depressed and even suicidal when she was with Crystal and Jesse, who she felt were more interested in her younger brother than her. When she was falsely accused of trying to kill Joshua, whom she says she loved, she told Roberts she “wanted out.” She agreed that she tried to kill him. She made up the claims that she was hallucinating. When she was abandoned by her adoptive parents in Moscow, she said she felt like she was in jail, but now believes she was partially responsible, since she had agreed to her parents’ version of events and lied about hallucinating.
Then again, she was just a child at the time.
After two months in the mental hospital, Nina Kostina, who had helped arrange her adoption, rescued Sabrina and brought her back to the United States. Three years later she adopted by another family in North Carolina. n 2008, Sabrina volunteered for the non profit Mercy Ships, spending two years providing medical care to the poor in Africa. That led to a job at a hospital when she returned to North Carolina. Two years later, she fell in love with fifth grade teacher Phil Caldwell, whom she met through her church. Before she would agree to marry him, she made him watch the “48 Hours” episode about her first adoptive parents. He told Roberts that he was stunned at what she had gone through. They were married in 2014, and now have three daughters and an infant son. Sabrina Caldwell has never been diagnosed with any mental or emotional illness, and takes no medication for such disorders. Continue reading →
At the end of last year, CBS’s “48 Hours” broadcast an update of a horrifying episode from two decades ago. I missed both programs, but I stumbled upon a rerun of the December 2021 follow-up last night. The tale is a true ethics train wreck that, incredibly, had a happy ending, making it also an abject lesson in moral luck.
The story had special resonance for me because it involved the aftermath of an American couple adopting of a Russian orphan, a process my wife and I went through as well. In 1997, Crystal and Jesse were a young married couple who had tried and failed to conceive. They fund Russian adoption agency’s website and were smitten by a photo of a beautiful 9-year-old girl. The couple began the adoption process. The child’s medical records from the adoption agency, were concerning, though: they described developmental problems.
CBS made a big deal about this, but essentially all older Russian orphans have developmental issues. Crystal told CBS that the “were assured that this child was healthy and that in a good home … with the best doctors in America helping her with the developmental issues, that she should be fine.” That was accurate advice (and she and her husband should have known that by doing responsible research before deciding to adopt a Russian orphan). I should also mention here that Russian medical records regarding orphans are notoriously unreliable. Our son, who has been freakishly healthy, came with ten pages of supposedly serious medical problems. Our pediatrician literally laughed at the document. Continue reading →
My favorite advice columnist, innate ethicist Carolyn Hax, courageously and wisely addressed an ethics problem that is the equivalent of squaring the circle or finding the end of pi. The question posed by a commenter:
My mother says she will not tell me who my father is and will take the secret to the grave with her. Is there ever any good reason for not telling someone who their father is?
This is not merely a difficult question but also a portal question leading us to a myriad of specific ethics dilemmas. Hax offers a few, some of which aren’t very good:
- If she doesn’t know for sure herself.
Well, of course: also if she can’t communicate due to her mouth being sewn shut, her arms amputated, she never learned Morse Code and it lousy at charades.]
- If he committed crimes so heinous that she fears they would change the way you see yourself.
- If he was and is still married to her sister, cousin, best friend.
Or if the mother is the father…?
- If revealing his name would reveal something embarrassing about her or her past choices or the circumstances of your birth.
Nope. Embarrassment about the truth is not a valid reason for withholding it from someone who has a legitimate and justified reason to know it.
- If she promised him she would take the secret of his identity to her grave.
Too bad: that’s never a good reason. A commitment to the dead does not, can not and must not have priority over obligations to the living. That’s an unethical promise; the daughter cannot be ethically made to suffer for it.
If he’s a sperm donor and she thinks there’s something wrong with admitting that.
- The mother thinking it’s a good reason isn’t the same as it being a good reason. Come on, Carolyn.
My favorite is if the father is Satan, and the mother wants her daughter to have as normal and happy a life as possible until the inevitable day when Dad calls on her to assume her destiny as the DARK EMPRESS OF THE DAMNED! Continue reading →
What this issue needs is sunlight…
As a parent of a former Russian orphan, I have been disturbed by the deterioration of the international adoption environment there and elsewhere. We have a son who was healthy from the start, and our adoption process, while chaotic (we were rushing against a deadline, as the Russian government was in the process of blocking all American adoptions), was handled openly and legally. Now my wife and I read about true horror stories involving abused children, cruel parents, and unscrupulous agencies and brokers here and in Russia. Except for the very worst cases, most of these never crack though the relative trivia on cable news.
In New York, a court has been ordered by a New York Judge, Edward J. McCarthy, to open proceedings about one such horror story. Adoption proceedings are always closed to the public and press, put the judge has ruled that these proceeding must be open, because… Continue reading →
Puppy, child, what’s the difference? The point is t0 make it someone else’s problem, right?
Every time you see a national newscast take up valuable time telling us about Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, Chelsea Clinton or the White House waterdogs, think about Inga, or Quita, victims of the increasingly common practice of underground adoption known as “private re-homing,” in which adopted children are traded around like dogs or kittens, and abused dogs and kittens at that.
I don’t have a lot of commentary about this horrible practice. My life was a little bit happier before it was brought to my attention. In the history of Ethics Alarms, perhaps the most upsetting story I have had to write about was the horrific conduct of Torry Hansen, a Tennessee mother who adopted a Russian child and then, finding that she couldn’t cope with his problems, put him, alone, on a plane bound for Russia with a note pinned to his jacket. I wrote that post with tears in my eyes; it upsets me to write about it now. Yet something very like what Hansen did to her son is being done via the internet, frequently and with little interference from the government or anyone else. I wish I didn’t know about this—no, that’s not quite right. I wish this wasn’t a feature of our society, so I wouldn’t have to know about it, much less write about it. Continue reading →
Look out for that sword!
Two years ago, Ethics Alarms featured the story of Torry Hansen, the Tennessee adoptive mother who couldn’t handle her adopted Russian child, so she pinned a note on him and sent him back to Russia, alone, on an airplane. I wrote:
“Sending an innocent child back to the orphanage, like he was a defective toaster returned to Walmart, is the ultimate betrayal, as unforgivable as treason, and far, far worse than adultery. A child who, in Justin’s case (his Russian name had been Artyom), was neglected by his alcoholic mother and taken by the state, sent to an orphanage and given to an American mother, has been rejected again and abandoned. I cannot imagine what this would do to a child. I cannot imagine allowing anyone’s child to endure this, least of all my own.
“Her son was making her life impossible. She couldn’t handle the stress; she looked into the future and saw only problems. Check: I understand. I empathize with Mrs. Hanson completely, for we knew when we adopted our son that this was a possible scenario. Again, it doesn’t matter. Sending an adopted child back to Russia is not an option, because it is absolutely wrong, like murder, like torture, like sacrificing one human being to save another. Never. Absolutely never. Nothing can ever justify treating a child—your own child— like that.”
Now CBS has reported that Hanson will have some consequences of her actions in addition to being roundly detested by every adoptive parent in the world (like me) and being a permanent member of the Bad Mothers Hall of Infamy. Continue reading →
I thought about a lot of possible headlines for this post. “Most Muddled Ethics Statement of the Century” was a real contender. I thought about making it an Ethics Alarms quiz, with the plaintive query,“Can anyone please tell me what the heck Paul McCartney thinks he is saying?” And, yes, I thought about skipping the story completely, as I am not eager to rattle the cages of the zealous pot enthusiasts, several of whom bombarded me, my business and my wife with vicious and threatening e-mails last week.
But this cannot pass without comment. Paul McCartney has given an interview to Rolling Stone in which, among other things, he announces that he is giving up smoking pot as a responsible father of an eight-year-old girl.
“I did a lot, and it was enough,” the co-writer of “With a Little Help From My Friends” (“I get high with a little help from my friends…”) and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” tells the interviewer. “I smoked my share. When you’re bringing up a youngster, your sense of responsibility does kick in, if you’re lucky, at some point. Enough’s enough – you just don’t seem to think it’s necessary.”
This is completely bewildering. Is Paul saying he’s had his fill, and now that he has, come to think of it, it’s irresponsible to smoke pot? Is he expressing regret? Continue reading →
The ethical virtue at issue is integrity.
On the other hand, some times you just have to say, "oh, the hell with it" and stomp on the damn snake...
Those who oppose abortion as the taking of innocent human life may not, consistent with integrity (forget about logic) also say that abortion is a personal choice. Those who oppose capital punishment as a matter of principle (rather than as a problem of fair application) may not, consistent with integrity, announce that of course they would make exceptions in the cases of Hitler, Bin Laden, and Ted Bundy. A pacifist who won’t explain why the U.S. shouldn’t have fought World War II isn’t a pacifist at all, but a poseur.
Now Andrew Cohen, a self-declared libertarian blogger, has written a defense of the state determining whether or not potential parents may have children. He writes: Continue reading →
The tragic life of J. Paul Getty III, grandson of the late oil tycoon who long held the title “The World’s Richest Man,” is testimony to the truth that wealth is no match for a family culture devoid of ethics.
Getty III, known to his friends as Paul, died last week at the age of 54. He had been confined to a wheelchair-bound for 30 years, after a drug overdose caused a stroke that left him paralyzed, mute and mostly blind. His father, J. Paul Getty II, who had little contact with his son after divorcing his mother when Paul was a child, refused to help him with any of his inherited billions, declaring that his son had earned his misfortune with his irresponsible ways. In truth, few sons have been given more reason to doubt their self-worth based on their callous treatment by their father figures. Continue reading →
Jennifer Aniston is promoting her upcoming comedy “The Switch,” about a single woman who becomes a mother through artificial insemination. In one interview. Aniston commented that “Women are realizing more and more that you don’t have to settle, they don’t have to fiddle with a man to have that child.” This rankled Fox News’ star blowhard Bill O’Reilly, who regarded Aniston’s remark as an endorsement of unwed and under-age motherhood, and told his cable audience that Aniston was “throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that, ‘Hey! You don’t need a guy, you don’t need a dad!” His verdict: “That’s destructive to our society!…Aniston can hire a battery of people to help her, but she cannot hire a dad, okay?” Continue reading →