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The Arts and Medicine
July 2, 2019

Three Identical Strangers and The Twinning Reaction—Clarifying History and Lessons for Today From Peter Neubauer’s Twins Study

Author Affiliations
  • 1Pacella Research Center, New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, New York, New York
  • 2Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey
  • 3New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, New York, New York
JAMA. 2019;322(1):10-12. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.8152

In 2018, two independently produced documentaries received media attention for the stories they told of identical siblings who, adopted as infants into different families and raised separately, rediscovered each other as adults and came to terms with their new understanding of family and their shared history. Three Identical Strangers (director, Tim Wardle; available through streaming services and DVD) recounts the lives of Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran, triplet brothers who stumbled upon each other in their college years and enjoyed a brief period of celebrity before emotionally confronting the implications of their separation. A shorter documentary, The Twinning Reaction (director, Lori Shinseki; incorporated in part into an ABC television segment of 20/20, “Secret Siblings”), focuses on the lives of other sets of twins who were separated at birth, reunited, and whose reactions echoed those of the triplets.

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    2 Comments for this article
    Welcome Contribution
    Lawrence Blum, MD | Departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania; Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia; Independent Private Practice
    The article by Drs. Hoffman and Oppenheim offers the kind of balanced and contemporary discussion of research ethics, and changes in them over time, that was conspicuously absent from "Three Identical Strangers." The triplets' mothers were also notably absent, and I wondered if the filmmakers withheld from view some kind of agreement with the mothers to keep them out of the film, which would be an interesting bit of hypocrisy if true. Hoffman's and Oppenheim's essay provides a valuable complement to a very interesting, challenging, film.
    How About the Twins Who Were Separated and Not Studied?
    Lawrence Perlman, PhD, Clinical Psychology | Independent Practice, Ann Arbor, MI
    The two films originated from the articles that Nancy Segal and I published in 2005-6. We know that there were four pairs of twins (not three as cited above) plus the triplets in the study. The Jewish Board assures us that all have been reunited, though we do not know the gender, age or identifying information for one pair. All have been offered the opportunity to see their files in the Yale archives, under certain specified conditions, according to the head of the Jewish Board, which controls access.

    However, other twins were separated for adoption, in accordance
    with Viola Bernard's mistaken beliefs, but never studied. We do not know how many or whether they have been informed of their twin status. Four pairs have been identified. Spence-Chapin Adoption Services in New York City, which inherited the files from Louis Wise Services, refuses to provide us with any information regarding the number, age, and gender of the separated twins. I believe this is an ongoing ethical issue that needs to be addressed.