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lthough Fairchild presented photographic evidence of the children’s upbringing and her ex-partner, the children’s father, confirmed that he was present at the births, the state still sued her for welfare fraud because her DNA didn’t match that of her children. She couldn’t find a lawyer to represent her and had to appear in court alone until she gave birth to her third child in the presence of a court official and the child’s DNA still didn’t match hers. The court was finally convinced that she was definitely lying somehow and decided to take the children away from her. Fortunately, at the last moment, when Lydia really wished she had never been born, an intelligent lawyer appeared and took over her case.

This is a very strange story that shows what can sometimes happen when you ask the government for help and how real help comes when you least expect it after you have done everything imaginable and unimaginable.

Lydia Fairchild was 26 years old, unemployed, and had just separated from the father of her children when she applied for state support in Washington State – a process that required both paternity and maternity tests. The entire family had to provide DNA samples in the form of cheek swabs to prove their relationship. When the result of the maternity test was available, the social services called Fairchild and asked her to come to their office urgently. 

The social worker and a legal representative confronted Fairchild with DNA evidence that her children were not biologically related to her and that she was committing welfare fraud by lying about her relationship with her children. Lydia was shocked and frightened. She called her parents, who had always been part of her life, and she called her obstetrician, who had delivered her every time. 

Legal Battle Against All Known Odds

The state filed a lawsuit against Fairchild, who was pregnant with her third child at the time, because a DNA analysis showed no match between her DNA and that of her children, even though there was a clear match between the children and their father, Jamie Townsend. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office took Fairchild’s case on suspicion of welfare fraud. Initially, the prosecution ordered the family to undergo three separate cheek swab DNA tests to rule out laboratory errors. But each time, the results showed that Fairchild was not the biological mother of her two children. 

Although she was able to produce photos showing her with her children, as well as statements from her family, the prosecution still believed that she was somehow lying because the US courts at that time accepted DNA evidence as infallible. So they charged her with welfare fraud for listing her children as dependents on her welfare application and threatened her with a lie detector test to bring her to heel.

The judge advised Fairchild to get a lawyer, but they all refused on the grounds that they would never win a case against DNA evidence. The pregnant Fairchild was beside herself with possible consequences, but she could not back down now and lose her children, so she continued to represent herself in court, bringing photos of her two previous pregnancies and pictures of her with her children as infants. 

At this point, Fairchild was only a few days away from giving birth to her next child and when the court suggested that her two children be placed in separate foster homes while the case was appealed, she requested that the court put the case on hold until she gave birth to her third child and the child’s DNA was tested. The judge agreed and ordered that a bailiff be present at the birth. 

When the results arrived two weeks later, there was again no genetic match between the mother and her child. Although the bailiff attended the delivery of the newborn from Fairchild’s body and watched as doctors drew blood from both Fairchild and the child to conduct DNA tests, the judge stood by his statement that Fairchild had been deceptive in some way about the pregnancies. 

However, a lawyer, Alan Tindell, who was intrigued by this strange case, agreed to represent her.

A Case of Karen Keegan Brings Light

Tindell first questioned her thoroughly to make sure that her children were not from her sister or brother. He even asked her if she had kidnapped them. After being convinced by her adamant answers, he began to investigate the evidence against her when he came across a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Disputed Maternity Leading to Identification of Tetragametic Chimerism”, which described the case of Karen Keegan, a woman who needed a kidney transplant but whose DNA matched only one of her children, who were tested as possible kidney donors. 

The researchers suggested chimerism as a possible explanation. After receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health to further study Keegan and her family, they found that Keegan had two different sets of DNA in her body resulting from the fusion of two independently fertilized eggs at a very early stage of development, known as chimerism. The research results were published in the same year that the Fairchilds investigation began, 2002.

This evidence was crucial to Fairchild’s case and the court allowed further DNA testing on Fairchild. The court-appointed lab technicians began taking hair, cheek, skin, and blood samples, but they all showed the same DNA lineage. It was only when they took a sample from Fairchild’s cervix that they finally found a second DNA lineage that matched that of her children. But it wasn’t over yet. Fairchild’s mother had to submit her DNA for comparison and when she matched as the children’s maternal grandmother, the judge dismissed the case, admitting he was wrong and that Fairchild was her own twin.

Fairchild’s case was one of the first public reports of chimerism and was used as an example in later discussions about the validity and reliability of DNA evidence in court cases in the United States.

What is a human chimera?

Chimeras are organisms that have two different sets of DNA in their bodies, i.e. the genetic material that contains the instructions for an organism’s development and function. Most organisms have only one set of DNA, which is present and identical in every cell in the organism’s body. An organism receives about half of its DNA from the germ cells of its parents, i.e. their sperm and eggs, which transfer the DNA from the parents to the offspring. In human reproduction, a sperm normally fuses with an egg, resulting in a fertilized egg that can develop into a fetus. 

Sometimes, however, the ovaries, the organs in the female body that produce and acquire eggs, release more than one egg at a time, a phenomenon known as hyperovulation. In such cases, two different sperm can fertilize two different eggs that are released during hyperovulation. The result is two genetically different fertilized eggs that can develop into fraternal twins. 

However, in some cases, these two fertilized eggs may fuse at an early stage of development, resulting in a chimera of two genetically different cell lines. As a result, a chimera does not have cells with identical DNA throughout its body, but the DNA in different parts of its body is different, so the DNA in its blood, for example, is not the same as the DNA in its saliva.

Documented cases of chimerism in people like Fairchild and Keegan are rare, and the actual incidence rate is unknown. Some researchers speculate that chimerism in humans is as common as in fraternal or non-identical twins, the incidence of which is steadily increasing due to the increasing use of assisted reproductive technologies and fertility treatments.

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