Sunday, November 02, 2008


Yet Hampshire Social Services want him to give an organ to his son. Yep it is pretty horrible. He can't meet his son. He also lost his adoption bid. Excuse me but what the hell seriously.

Here is the link and the story:

The letter from Hampshire Social Services was as brief as it was bewildering. ‘Please ring me on the above number,’ it said. ‘I have some information that might be of interest to you.’ This was quite an understatement, as Michael Shergold soon found.

A quietly spoken father of three, he finds that his life rarely gets more exciting than his weekly game of golf. But when he called the social workers as requested, he was confronted with a series of astonishing facts.

They said he was the father of another child - a five-year-old son from a previous, short-lived relationship. A former girlfriend, unable to cope with the demands of motherhood, had handed the boy over to foster parents.

Bewildered: Michael and Alex Shergold with his sons Peter and David last week. 'Our family seems incomplete', says Michael

A meeting with this new-found son was out of the question, he was told, let alone any sort of relationship. He was also informed that the boy was to be formally adopted and that the council was ringing merely to let him know.

His shock slowly turned to anger and then determination. Hurt to have been kept in the dark for so many years, Michael still believed he was responsible for the child - whom we shall call Andrew - and launched a legal fight to secure custody.

But there were extraordinary surprises in store for Michael and his wife, Alex. Hampshire Social Services wanted more than just his acquiescence.

Andrew, it emerged, had been diagnosed with a severe problem in one of his organs. For legal reasons, it is not possible to be more specific.

But the boy stands little chance of living beyond his teenage years without a transplant - from a blood relative if at all possible. The most suitable blood relative, it was explained by social workers, was Michael himself.

Illness: Michael Shergold's son, whose identity we have concealed

In a disturbing saga, this was perhaps the most unpleasant twist of all. It brought him to a damning conclusion - that Hampshire Social Services had made him aware of Andrew’s existence only to provide the child with a body part.

Michael tried to adopt his son but last year he lost the battle and was refused even occasional visiting rights, which were deemed too upsetting for the boy.

Like almost all cases that go through the family court system, the details were not made public.

Michael now has to decide whether to risk his own life with a dangerous operation for a son who, as things stand, he will never see.

‘Words cannot express the anger and bewilderment I feel,’ says Michael. ‘I simply cannot believe how Social Services can be so cruel.

To track me down, tell me I have a son I knew nothing about, throw my life into chaos and then tell me I will never be able to see him is nothing short of disgraceful.’

The Mail on Sunday asked Hampshire County Council two months ago about its handling of the case.

It responded by obtaining a legal injunction to prevent us printing Michael’s story, claiming that to do so might damage his son’s chances of settling down.

Determined that Michael should get the chance to speak, The Mail on Sunday has pursued a lengthy legal fight to lift the injunction, and last week we succeeded. Today, in this exclusive interview, Michael is able to talk about his ordeal for the first time.

‘To know my son has been adopted against my consent by strangers rather than his blood family, where he would have had a loving home, has been bad enough,’ he says.

‘But to know that, if I don’t donate an organ, my son might not live long enough to know me has put me in the worst situation of all. I’m in a dilemma about what to do. I feel I am being asked to make a decision in a vacuum. If I could just see my son and maintain some sort of contact, I would have absolutely no hesitation about doing it.’

Michael, 55, was speaking at his spacious three-bedroom house in Southampton, the city where he was born and where he has spent his whole life. Sitting by his side is Alex. Originally from Los Angeles, she moved to Britain in 2002, the same year the couple married, and she became a pastor with a Pentecostal church in Portsmouth.

This is not the first time that Michael, who works as a school caretaker, has suffered domestic drama. His 16-year marriage ended in 1996 when he discovered that his first wife had been unfaithful. He was given custody of the children - Peter, now 17, David, 20, and Susanna, 30 - and brought them up single-handedly.

As Alex serves home-made carrot cake and their cuckoo clock announces the time, the Shergolds seem every inch a loving family. Their attitude to their predicament is one of quiet anger and grief rather than unfettered fury.

‘We have a wonderful, close-knit family,’ says Michael. Peter and David, who still live at home, flit in and out as the couple talk. Susanna lives close by.

It is a particular irony that Michael has been employed by Hampshire County Council for the past 35 years, overseeing the repairs, cleaning and maintenance of a local primary school. As it happens, the job requires him to undergo criminal record checks every year and neither he nor Alex, who was also checked, has any convictions.

The letter that shattered Michael’s life came in January 2007, but the origins of the trauma lay five years earlier, when he had embarked on a difficult relationship with a much younger woman.

Despite their age difference, things went well at first after they were introduced through friends. ‘She was the first woman I’d dated since splitting up with my wife,’ he recalls.

‘At first I didn’t think of having a relationship with her because, at 29, she was much younger than me. But she was bubbly and got on well with the boys. It was only after a few months that I realised she was unstable and had a drink problem. She would swear in front of the boys and I ended the relationship.’

He had no inkling that she might be pregnant and that, he thought, was the end of the matter. Indeed, it was not long before he met Alex through a friendship website.

Like Michael, she has three grown-up children and, again like Michael, she had spent years bringing them up single-handedly. She worked for US military intelligence, where she studied for degrees in psychology and theology.

Michael and Alex married a few months after meeting and settled down to a domestic routine, enjoying rounds of golf, games of bowls, trips to the cinema and regular visits to church.

That all changed with Hampshire County Council’s bombshell. ‘It was a terrible shock,’ recalls Alex. ‘Michael was told by a social worker that his child had been put into foster care.’

At 53, Alex thought she had said goodbye to bringing up a child, but she was as determined as her husband to welcome Andrew into the family. ‘That was where he belonged,’ she says. ‘Not with strangers to whom he is not related.’

The couple, whose children had also come round to the idea of embracing a new sibling into their lives, visited Hampshire Social Services’ headquarters in Winchester, where they were shown Andrew’s picture.

With hindsight, they were naively optimistic. Immediately infatuated, they dug out Scalextric and Lego sets, embarked on plans to turn their loft into a fourth bedroom and even researched school places.

‘He looked just like his daddy,’ says Alex. ‘We were determined that although he’d had such a dreadful start in life, we’d soon make it all up to him.’

When, two weeks later, DNA tests confirmed that Michael was the father, the couple instructed a solicitor to stop the adoption order and begin their own custody proceedings. ‘I thought that once Social Services saw our happy family home and how much we wanted Andrew to be a part of it, it would only be a matter of weeks before he would come to live with us,’ says Michael.

But then came the breathtaking twist. ‘At our second meeting with Social Services a social worker told us, “Andrew needs an organ transplant and, as you know, an organ is best donated from a blood relative.” ’

The couple were left in no doubt that Michael’s co-operation was essential if his son was to stand a good chance of surviving. His mother, they learned, had initially agreed to be the donor but changed her mind on the grounds that it would hinder her chances of having another child.

Social workers told Michael that he, and his children, were the ‘next choice’. He admits: ‘I was taken aback but, of course, desperately worried and keen to help my son.’

Meanwhile, two independent social workers were assigned to assess Michael and Alex as potential parents for Andrew. It was, by all accounts, a rigorous process. ‘I was surprised to be interrogated by a total stranger,’ he says, ‘but I hid nothing.’ Yet, over a
dozen visits, the questions became increasingly invasive.

‘The worst questions were about our sex life,’ he says. ‘They kept asking how “healthy” it was - we took it to mean how many times a week we made love - and if we indulged in 'normal' sex.’

Alex, who admits she didn’t take kindly to the intrusion, adds: ‘I felt that side of our marriage was private and we didn’t see how it could be relevant. In the end I replied, “None of your business and I am not happy to elaborate further.” Perhaps it is because I’m an American and a Christian, but I found the Social Services’ attitude difficult to understand.’

Meanwhile, the truth about Andrew’s situation gradually emerged. Finding a permanent home was not easy, however. The boy’s illness demanded a special diet and regular hospital visits.

After his rejection by one set of foster parents, his photograph had to be posted on an adoption website before finally, in 2006, the couple who were eventually to adopt him came forward. ‘I couldn’t believe this could have happened to my son,’ says Michael. ‘I found it incredible.

‘Social Services told me in our first phone conversation that Andrew's mother had named me as the father. Yet, as far as I can see, they made no effort to find me. I have lived in the same house for 11 years. I am on the electoral roll and in the phone book.’

Hampshire County Council says it did its best to locate Michael. ‘A care order would not have been made had the court not been satisfied that every effort had been made to locate Mr Shergold,’ says council leader Ken Thornber. ‘We have apologised to Mr Shergold for our failure to find him during care proceedings.

‘All circumstances leading to a child coming into care involve a degree of human tragedy and require very finely balanced judgments to be made. The needs of the child must always be the paramount concern and the judge did conclude that the local authority did its best, when it discovered the difficult situation that had arisen, to communicate with Mr Shergold and establish what contribution he could make to his son’s life.’

Michael believes he was eventually traced only because doctors said Andrew would need a transplant. Indeed, he now believes that even his attempt to adopt Andrew was something of a charade. ‘We began to feel that Social Services had let us go through the custody proceedings for nothing - that the adoption was arranged and they had no intention of placing Andrew with us,’ he says.

The Shergolds were refused custody at Portsmouth County Court last November. The judge admitted the background had been ‘difficult and somewhat unsatisfactory’ but ruled that moving Andrew in with the Shergolds would cause him unnecessary ‘difficulty and disruption’.

Just two days later - suspiciously quickly in the view of the Shergolds - he had been formally adopted, leaving the Shergolds in the cold.

Even their request that Michael should be able to see him for visits was turned down on the grounds that it would be ‘unsettling for Andrew’, who was ‘bonding’ with his new family. Yet Andrew's mother, who was judged unfit, is still allowed to visit Andrew twice a year.

Meanwhile, Hampshire Social Services are still pressing Michael to donate an organ. Even if Michael decides to do so, it will make no difference. ‘I was stunned,’ he says. ‘I asked them what would happen if I gave him a part of my body. They said that even then, I wouldn’t be allowed contact. Andrew would not even be told who donated the organ as this would be 'too unsettling'.’

The dilemma has had damaging repercussions for the Shergold family. Michael says his children are wounded and that even his marriage has suffered.

The criticism they endured during the adoption process hardly helped. ‘Social Services accused me of being unco-operative,’ explains Alex. ‘They made it plain they didn’t like me. It seems being American was a problem and so too, I think, was the colour of my skin.’ Alex is mixed-race.

One official report on the couple expressed concern that Andrew would be brought up in a dual-ethnicity family. ‘They made out I was a foreigner who had no idea how to look after a child,’ she says. ‘I’ve raised three children. Despite the fact that they live in the States, we are incredibly close. I also think of Michael’s sons as my own.

‘I began to think that if I wasn’t around, Michael would have got custody. One night I suggested to Michael and his sons that I leave. Thankfully, they wouldn’t hear of it. But the stress has been unbearable. Undoubtedly, Michael and I would have split up if our relationship wasn’t so strong.’

And Michael adds: ‘Social Services have never given me a concrete reason why my wife and I are not suitable. That is because there is no reason.’

The couple did not qualify for legal aid and have spent £4,000 on solicitors. Now they have been told there is no further action they can take.

Overshadowing everything, however, is the decision to donate an organ. ‘If I don’t donate an organ, Andrew might not live long enough to meet me and the guilt would probably be too much to live with,’ he says. ‘If I do, it will be as if I am donating to someone who I don’t really know exists.

‘How can social workers sleep at night, knowing they have separated a boy from his real father, a good father who has already successfully raised three children? They won’t even pass on birthday cards.

‘They have stormed in and left us to pick up the pieces. I cannot believe that in this country someone can stop you seeing your own child when you have done nothing wrong.

‘Our family seems incomplete. If I see a boy in the street, I wonder if it’s him. I dream of him meeting his brothers and sister and joining us when we have big birthday celebrations. My only hope is that he can choose to trace me when he is 18.

‘But what if he doesn’t live that long or is told lies about me – that his father is dead or didn’t want him? It breaks my heart to think we may never meet.’


Anonymous said...

Social services in this country seem to be a law unto themselves. This is one of the most callous and cruel cases I have heard. I sincerely hope that the adopting parents take pity on the whole Shergold family and decide to allow access themselves, despite social services. My opinion is that 'Andrew' really should have been sent to his own father and family, tragic as this would have been for the adopting family. In the circumstance that Andrew is already living with, or very close to the adoptive parents, then at the very least, reasonable access should be granted to the Shergolds. At the end of this, if the adoptive parents do not allow contact, one has to ask how genuine they are as regards Andrews long term happiness. It disgusts me that social services continue with their racist attitudes, all under the guise of loftier aspirations. How many children end up staying in care because prospective adopters are the wrong shade of skin (lets not kid ourselves that this is truly cultural - for example is a dual race child with parents who are white british and west indian british allowed to be adopted by a black british couple from Nigeria as opposed to a white couple from Scotland???) How many children of dual race relationships see one parent as 'white' and one as 'black' or 'asian'? Or do they just see their parents? It also seems to me that how often my husband or I have sex or whether we are normal (what on earth is that - I would only know if I was 'normal' if I spent time interviewing strangers on the street and did an averages chart). What I can say is that my tastes are legal - would that do? The obsession with 'colour' matching and private sexual practice (as long as it is legal) seems detrimental to me. My heart goes out to Mr Sherbourne and his family, whatever decision he makes I support as he is obviously a truly decent and loving father, caught up in the most tragic of circumstances in which he must weigh up his obligations to all his children and the risk to his own life. My thoughts are with you

maybe said...

First we have reproductive exploitation of young women who are supposed to "make an infertile couple's dream of a baby come true."

Now we have organ exploitation of other blood relatives who are expected to offer up their body parts. But god forbid they see themselves as "family." No siree, that's not allowed.

It keeps getting worse (and I didn't think that was even possible).

zoroastrina said...

The father who case was discussed on Outlook on 13 December 2008 seems to me to have been treated unfairly both by the courts with their notorious tunnel vision of the pawns of fate and contingency and the social control fetishists of the Social Services Department. Both the child and his unknowing procreator are seemingly being instrumentalized to compensate for systemic social failures. The judicial authorities and the social services seem to be exercising social control in a psychologically coercive manner. That the quite respectable father and potential donor is being denied all access for life to the patient and offspring whom he is being put under pressure to help at considerable risk to himself is conspicuously objectionable.

I quote herewith from sources on the ethical aspects and the complications of organ donation:

“Organ donation by living donors presents a unique ethical dilemma, in that physicians must risk the life of a healthy person to save or improve the life of a patient. With directed donation to loved ones or friends, worries arise about the intense pressure that can be put on people to donate, leading those who are reluctant to do so to feel coerced." (NEJM)

In the U.S., there are currently more solid organ transplants performed using live donors than deceased donors (1). This trend represents the rapid growth in live-donor kidney transplantation. The reason for this growth in live-donor kidney transplantation is that the outcomes are substantially better using kidneys from live versus deceased donors and currently wait-times for a kidney in the country can be more than five years. Importantly in this regard, survival after kidney transplantation is substantially better than survival on dialysis.

However, it is difficult to make a similar compelling argument for live-donor liver transplantation. Heretofore, the results of live donor liver transplantation have not yielded superior graft survival rates as compared to deceased donor transplantation (2). This is particularly true when accounting for the fact that live donors are younger, there is virtually no cold ischemia [deficient supply of blood to a body part (as the heart or brain) that is due to obstruction of the inflow of arterial blood ] time and the recipients tend to be healthier. In the U.S., while the number of kidney transplants using live donors has continued to rise, the number of live-donor liver transplants that are performed annually has remained relatively flat (1). (…) Donor morbidity is substantial and mortality is not inconsequential, particularly when compared to live-donor kidney transplantation.

In terms of morbidity and mortality — make no mistake about it — the risks are substantial. It is likely that as many as 10, or even more, donors have died as a result of liver donation worldwide (4). A recent study from the Adult-to-Adult Living-Donor Liver Transplantation (A2ALL) study group (5) examined complications following live-donor liver transplantation. (…)A total of 38 percent of the patients experienced complications specifically related to donation, including 17 percent who experienced two or more complications. These included 49 donors, or 12.5 percent of the cohort (of more than 400 patiients) who experienced infection, largely bacterial; four experiencing inter-operative injury; and six other inter-operative complications. The most common complication was a bile leak, which occurred in approximately 10 percent of donors. Twenty-two, or 5.6 percent, of the donors experienced an incisional hernia; 2.3 percent developed an intra-abdominal abscess; 3.3 percent experienced either prolonged ileus or bowel obstruction; and bleeding was reported in 1.5 percent of donors. Twenty-seven, or 7 percent, of live donors experienced a cardiopulmonary complication, 16, or 4 percent, developed hypoxia. four percent had psychological complications (…).Overall, more than a third of adult live donors experienced complications after donation. Many of them required significant intervention, and some could have resulted in disability or been regarded as representing a life-threatening condition. Moreover, this is only a partial picture, as the long-term morbidity is unknown. The one thing we know for sure is that, while liver regeneration is rapid and impressive after live donation, it is often incomplete and some patients can have on-going thrombocytopenia.
In summary, live-donor liver transplantation is a risky business. It is associated with a high rate of potential complications, with generally worse results and clearly contributes little to alleviating the “perceived” donor shortage. (…) Finally, it is important to emphasize that live donation is probably the only situation in which someone undergoing surgery does not directly benefit from the surgical procedure. To not violate the principal of “physician do no harm” requires extraordinary proof that such a procedure is required. (John Lake, MD, The Ethics of Living-Donor Liver Transplantation: A Risky Business, American Gastroenterological Association February/March 2007)

Lungs can also be transplanted from living donors, adding to the supply of available organs. A living lung donor can be anyone who matches the recipient, related or not. At least two other people have to donate lobes to form an entire lung for one recipient; lobes of the lung are donated depending on which sections of the lungs need to be replaced. (Lung Transplants, American Lung Association,November 2005)

Right-lobe live donor liver transplantation improves the survival of patients with acute liver failure, according to the British Journal of Surgery, Volume 89 Issue 3, pages 317 – 322, published online: 5 Nov 2002)

I have something to relate about a major dilemma pertaining to my sister and myself, but you may be too busy to want to receive it. It could be four or five pages long.

Sincerely yours,

Jane Rauch

The Luhmannian systems theory of Niklas Luhmann and the post-Luhmannians such as the eminent Rudolf Stichwehas, as well as Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben deal substantively with the processes of inclusion and exclusion, especially with inclusive exclusion, in the sense that a person may be excluded from certain societal systems by being marginalized in one way or another, but he or she is always and inevitably dragged back willy-nilly into the societal realm from which she or he may have been excluded. Socially marginalized persons thus end up in total institutions such as prisons, madhouses (where they are subjected to massive forced medical mistreatment), internment camps for economic migrants, and children’s homes (where they are often psychologically deformed).
In the case concerned, a natural father has been subjected to exclusion by the judicial system and to massive and invasive social control by an overtly racist social system, whose primary function is to exercise social control. From a purely utilitarian and instrumental point of view, this person is being asked to risk his life for someone he will probably never see. He is thus being reduced from the status of an autonomous person as a Kantian end or purpose in himself to the status of an object or a thing which is exploited for the purposes of the system and its agents, in order to rescue a ward of the state. In German: “Er wird verdinglicht” or *thingified. Both the father and his son represent Agamben’s naked existence (la vita nuda), which is being exposed to the naked biopolitics (Foucault and Agamben) of governmental dispositives that coordinate power relationships and extend control practices. Only exceptionally, such personal networks are symbolically closed groups, like families, but the family concerned in this case is quite open.