I recently watched Three Identical Strangers, an award-winning documentary from director Tim Wardle, on CNN. The film explores questions of nature vs. nurture and medical ethics, as told through the incredible story of three men separated at birth: Edward Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran.
The film is fascinating: Triplets separated at birth and adopted by families of different socioeconomic backgrounds living within 100 miles of each other as part of a secret study conducted by psychoanalyst Peter Neubauer. Neubauer’s team made periodic visits with the families under the guise of a general child development study. No one told the adoptive parents their children had identical siblings.
The triplets accidental discovery of each other at age 19 was stunning and my favorite part of the film. The three became very close; however, the film hints that all three struggled with mental health issues, which ultimately led to Eddie’s suicide in 1995.
This is where the film lost me. Family members give their take on Eddie’s suicide. Some say he was the most sensitive of the triplets, which sounds plausible enough. But then some family members mention Eddie’s adoptive father, and how he was strict as compared to the other brothers’ fathers. No abuse was even hinted at – just that Eddie’s father had a lot of rules in his home. So some family members posit that nurture was to blame for Eddie’s suicide.
I don’t think it’s that simple. All three struggled with mental health. The film doesn’t go into any details, but the remaining brothers wonder whether their biological mother suffered from mental illness. Eddie was 34 when he died. A grown man, not a depressed teenager living under the thumb of an overbearing father. I don’t think there is enough evidence to make any conclusions other than the biological. The results of the study have been sealed until 2066, although they have released some data, albeit heavily redacted, to the families.
There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that the unnecessary separation of the tripets DID cause psychological harm. I think that fact is more relevant than the style of parenting they received from their adoptive families. What do you think?
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