Air France 447 DNA I.D. Good-Now Sophie’s Choice Awaits

George's Point of View

For those who may be reading this in another language, I must explain the phrase Sophie’s choice. The term originates from a William Styron novel of the same name, in which its protagonist, Sophie, is a mother who is forced to make an impossible choice: whether her son or daughter will be allowed to live. She is not allowed to choose both of them to live and sacrifice her own life (which is what most mothers would choose to do.) If she abstains from choosing, both her children will die. So the phrase Sophie’s choice has been accepted in American culture to mean any impossible choice.

It is completely apropos in our current situation.

According to police reports, completed laboratory tests extracted viable DNA from tissue samples of two of about 50 Air Flight 447 victim remains. The extraction proves that the DNA can be used to provide identification.

However, earlier in the week, two Parisian judges in charge of the recovery, Sylvie Zimmerman and Yann Danielle, decided of the remains, “to preserve their dignity and out of respect for the families who mourn them, the remains of those too badly altered should not be recovered. While tests are carried out on those two bodies already recovered to see if they can be identified, no others will be raised.”

Though judges have ruled the bodies must not be recovered from the sea bed because it is too traumatic for their families, there are families who want their loved ones recovered. So we will not be surprised if any judgment is challenged by family members who find it more traumatic to leave their loved ones at sea, especially while they are now so close at hand. It may be that the stated judgment was not hard and fast, however; it may have been meant only that recovery may be suspended as tests are carried out.

Although the Brazilian victims’ families association president Nelson Marinho said that “This operation is very encouraging for those families who now have some hope of finding their loved ones’ bodies and being able to bury them,” it appears that some families do not want to be faced with the condition of the remains.

The families or the judges will soon be facing a Sophie’s choice.

It would be a non-issue if …

-if the bodies were located in an easily found, easily retrievable location
-if all the families agreed
-if the testing were possible to do on the fly, under water, and immediately
-if the remains were in an appealing condition

But none of this is true. The bodies are in an obscure location, and will probably be transient unless actions are performed to secure them. If they are not recovered now, they will likely be lost forever.

The families have different opinions and needs. Some are shaken by the trauma of recovery because it freshens the grief which is only of two years duration; some hope that a normal burial will provide closure; no doubt there are some who have deep feelings but cannot elect to disturb the remains or abandon them at sea.

The testing of DNA must be done in a lab, and it is time consuming, and means that for the most accurate assessment, the remains must be recovered in order to be identified. And after two years in cold salt water under the same pressure the black boxes underwent, the condition of the remains either is not that nice, and will be less so upon recovery.

Whatever is decided, let us remember the law is not cast in stone, but a living thing. Let us hope for the families’ sakes that those who feel qualified to sit in judgement over others choose, in this case, to facilitate individual family wishes, rather than presenting an obstacle.

The families have been through enough already.

Originally posted by George Hatcher on Thursday, May 19th, 2011 at 6:10 am