A Brno court has ordered Třebíč hospital in Moravia to pay a total of 3.3 million crowns in damages to the families of two baby girls who were accidentally switched at birth, a fact that only came to light ten months later. The court ruling was unprecedented and has evoked heated debate in the media regarding how one can put a price tag to this kind of trauma.
Photographers jostled for position as the couple made their way to the packed courtroom to hear Friday’s verdict. The court was expected to assess the depth of human suffering and attach a price tag to a hospital error that resulted in two couples forming close bonds with a child that was not their own. The story broke late in 2007 shortly after one of the fathers asked for a DNA test without his partner’s knowledge and was told that his daughter was not his biological child. His partner denied it and a second DNA test revealed that she was not the biological mother either. They contacted the hospital and eventually their daughter was traced, living with a family who also had a baby girl on that same day. Needless to say the revelation turned both couples lives’ upside down. They swapped the children in the midst of a media circus and underwent counseling to help them carry on with their lives and form new bonds with their biological child. When the hospital offered them a ridiculously small compensation package (300,000 crowns –or 13,000 dollars each ) they took the case to court. The court ruled that the hospital should pay them 3.3 million crowns altogether, though not everyone got the same amount.
Jaroslava and Jan Čermák and Jaroslava Trojanová (right) are going to get the compensation, photo: CTK
The verdict was passed on the basis of a series of psychological tests with the parents. The man who started the whole affair by secretly ordering a DNA test got the smallest amount of money on the grounds that he reportedly knew what he was getting into. His partner, who has often said she’d be better off not knowing, is to receive 700,000 while the other couple –whose marriage is said to breaking up as a result of this crisis received several hundred thousand crowns more each. Surprisingly, even the children did not get the same amount – one got 300,000 crowns, the other 150,000 - depending on how stable and loving an environment they lived in - before and after the swap.
Both couples have accepted the verdict, but they say that no amount of money can make up for what they have gone through and what may still lie ahead for them. Although the baby girls appear to have settled down fairly well in their new environment, psychologists say that one cannot rule out traumas later in life. Meanwhile, the two sets of parents are much worse off. Both admit to having serious problems and sticking together only for the sake of the children. Despite appeals for greater privacy they remain very much in the limelight. Meanwhile, the wave of DNA testing that followed shortly after the story broke has now receded. The very public suffering of these two families has indicted just how painful such a discovery may be and how difficult it sometimes is to make decisions relating to the future.