Zephany Nurse abduction presents huge ethical dilemmas

South African case throws up huge moral dilemmas.

Somebody abducted baby Zephany Nurse from the Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town in 1997.

We don’t know who did it, but we do know that the child somehow ended up in the custody of people other than her biological family. We don’t know how that happened, and neither does the court that is currently trying a woman for kidnapping. What we do know, however, is that Zephany Nurse was nearly 18 years old by the time her father realised that he had found his lost daughter, and this is where the moral ambiguity kicks in. This is where the questions become hard to answer.

In 1997 Zephany Nurse was snatched from the maternity unit of the hospital while her mother, Celeste, slept and the child wasn’t seen again for nearly eighteen years. It was the most appalling nightmare for any young parent to face but they then went on to have more children, while continuing to bear the tragedy of their loss.

zephany nurse

Their next daughter, Cassidy, attended Zwaanswyk High, where she met a girl who bore a strong resemblance to  her, a resemblance so remarkable that their schoolfriends made a mockery of them, forcing them into a friendship they might not otherwise have chosen, and that was how Cassidy’s father became aware of the situation. After inviting his daughter’s new friend to their home, he became convinced that this was his first child and he informed the police, who arranged the DNA test that confirmed the truth. This girl was his daughter, Zephany and that was where the ethical problems started.

Following the abduction, Zephany had grown up in a stable, loving home, regardless of how that home came into existence. But after the truth emerged she was immediately removed from that home and placed with a biological family that was far less stable. The parents had separated and their evangelical religious ethos was quite different from the experience of the girl who now formed an unwiilling part of their lives.

Furthermore, Zephany was shortly to be an autonomous adult with the power to make her own decisions about where she lived and who she lived with.

What was the best way to deal with a situation like that?

Was it in the best interests of the child (even though the child was close to becoming a legal adult) to arrest the only woman she had ever known as a mother?

Was it in the best interests of the child to return her to a family she didn’t know and whose religious ethos she didn’t share?

What was the greater interest served by these actions?

Should the South African state offer support to Zephany Nurse as a consequence of the trauma caused by the decision to intervene? What greater good will it serve to jail the only woman she has known as a mother?

None of these are easy questions. It can’t have been an easy decision to intervene in the first place, and perhaps under South African law the state officials had no choice except to take action. But on the other hand, by the time they knew about the case, they weren’t dealing with a child. They were dealing with a young adult who, within months, would be independent anyway.

Was it in the best interests of anyone for them to intervene immediately?

4 thoughts on “Zephany Nurse abduction presents huge ethical dilemmas

  1. dessigee, Is that all you can think of when you read of situations like this?
    You aught to be ashamed of yourself!

  2. She seems to suggest it’s ok to nick babies if they’re from further afield.
    That looks a bit like a modest proposal Ebenezer.

  3. Kidnapping is a crime, regardless of the loving family environment in which the baby girl grew up. She bonded with the schoolgirl who resembled her and turned out to be her biological sister, so at least she can freely like her real sister for life. How she feels now about the parents who brought her up lovingly is an emotional quandry I would hate to find myself in. I’d say the law has to investigate the circumstances in which the baby was taken from the hospital. If no criminal prosecution is pursued maybe the biological parents will consider civil litigation. That won’t relieve the emotional trauma of the snatched and now grown-up Zephany. Civil litigation generally frays family emotions.
    I am reminded of a different case which came to light some years ago in Argentina. During the murderous dictatorship of General Videla in the early 1980s (and for some years before that) thousands of men and women “disappeared”. The babies and young children of disappeared mothers were handed over to married couples for adoption. One couple, the husband in the military, adopted a baby girl, who later learned that her biological mother was one of ‘the disappeared’. She was so angry that she publicly renounced her adoptive parents, even though they had given her a stable economic and emotional upbringing.

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