Is there any amount of time that can pass before a terrible mistake can be forgiven and forgotten? Of course. But what if that mistake put you in the wrong family’s hands at birth? This is at the heart of a lawsuit filed against a Roman Catholic diocese in West Virginia. Filed by two men who believe they were switched at birth almost 80 years earlier, the case shows that some mistakes just cannot be forgiven or forgotten.
The suit, filed by John William Carr III and Jackie Lee Spencer (both born on the same day in 1942) alleges that negligent workers at the St. Joseph Hospital in Buckhannon sent them home with the wrong families. It took this long for the two men to file their case because there had not been another way to prove such a mistake had been made.
The good news, if there is any, is that DNA testing does exist, and this is what helped the two men to launch their case. It was not until 2019 that the men had DNA testing done and learned that there were no genetic links between each of the men and the families that had raised them. What they did find was that their DNA tests matched the other man’s family members.
It had all started 50 years earlier when Jackie Lee Spencer set out to find his father. The name on his birth certificate was his only clue, and as the man had abandoned his mother, it proved difficult to track him down. After years, he located relatives of the man, and DNA indicated that there was no direct relation.
This is what cued the two men to investigate their backgrounds.
In an article from the Associated Press, the men say that they have endured a “lifetime of consequences” because of the mistake. From feeling odd because he did not look like his family to feeling as if his entire family died at once, the men are at an age when they never got to know most of their blood relatives.
The lawsuit says as much, stating that “Many of the people Jack should have known his entire life are gone. He feels as though most of his family died all at once. He grieves for the loss of the life he was supposed to have, while reconciling those feeling with the love and gratitude he feels for the family he has known his whole life.”
Mr. Carr, on the other hand said that he’d always felt out of place within the family due to his brilliant blue eyes and entirely different facial features. He says in the lawsuit “I never felt like I fit in here because my mother and dad had brown hair and brown eyes, and so do my brother and sister.”
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston indicated that the hospital had been operated by a different religious order and was not under the supervision of the diocese. The spokesperson for the organization, Tim Bishop, said that he is unsure why they were named in the suit. “The Diocese has never been involved in the management, administration or oversight of the hospital during its existence,” he insisted.
If the case goes to court, it is likely to prove some sort of connection to the hospital in the past. What is the compensation for such a mistake? Is there any dollar amount that can ease such pain? Probably not, but if the two men can help to prevent any similar mistakes in the future, it will be worth the effort.