Familial relations as rights (and responsibilities): truths and (mis)trust in the law and literature on origin deprivation

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Law cannot compel appropriate emotional or moral responses to complex situations: it can only seek to manage human behaviours, especially within the realms of family and kinship. Generally, jurists struggle to define relatedness that is not evidenced by legal paperwork, despite the existence of juridical rights covering how relatives should behave towards each other (e.g. in property division, child care, transfer of parental responsibility). It is difficult however to find a term that means the opposite of 'loved one,' even where law achieves the deep 'othering' found in works of fiction. The severing of ancestral ties via closed birth records or informational vetoes (in adoption, gamete donor, or surrogacy scenarios) serves to copper-fasten how relatedness - legal and biological - cannot be taken for granted. The unknown relative is not to be trusted, it seems, given their propensity for jealousy and violent revenge (Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein) or social revolt (Never Let Me Go, The Giver). The ability of the abandoned to withstand cruelties and overcome adversity however (Jane Eyre, An Episode of Sparrows) is evidenced repeatedly in literature and increasingly mentioned in the work of those who seek meaningful legal reform of identity rights. Where the law creates 'limping parentage,' (HCCH, 2019) it may irreversibly other those already denied ancestral truths via circumstance or the failings of human nature. Arguably, certain works of literature and popular visual culture have achieved more than lawyers or activists, by sparking meaningful debates and raising public awareness of the impacts of origin deprivation, 'orphanisation,' and lost genetic connection (The Handmaid's Tale, Philomena, Loki, The Vampire Diaries).


Conference2021 Conference of the Law, Literature and Humanities Association of Australasia
Internet address


  • Law, Literature, Adoption, Reunion


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