No Brotherly Love in Deutschland

by Christina Geyer on March 2, 2007 · 12 comments

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On CNN International this evening, there was a report about a German brother and sister who, after growing up apart with no knowledge of each other (the brother grew up in a foster home), met as young adults and fell in love (they did know they were siblings when they met). They have four children and because sex between siblings is illegal in Germany, the brother, Patrick, spent 25 months in prison. Three of the children have been taken from them, two were reported to be disabled, but the cause of the disabilities was not reported. (read the CNN report in English, or the SpiegelOnline report in German).

I’m not sure what to think about this, but I guess as long as it’s two consenting adults, what business is it of anyone else. And sure they have an increased risk of having disabled children, but so do a lot of other people (Rainer specifically cited hemophiliacs as an example). If I were in such a situation (ugh, trying not to think about it – blah!), I certainly would not procreate, but I’m not going to try and stop people with diabetes or other inheritable problems from procreating, so what business is it of ours if these two want to raise a family.

I’m pretty sure the German government will end up repealing this law. Sex between siblings is apparently legal in most of the EU, so I can’t imagine it staying on the books much longer here. Actually, I’m pretty surprised that the guy was charged and sent to jail.

Also, the CNN newscasters discussed how big a news story this is here in Germany, but the CNN broadcast this evening was the first that either Rainer or I heard about it, and I’ve been making a concerted effort to watch the German news most every day (a New Years Resolution of mine). I’m sure the story is out there, but I don’t think it’s been huge or anything – certainly no “Anna Nicole’s Body”-type story. Any thoughts?

For more info, see the Wikipedia articles on: genetic disorder, incest (especially “Genetics” section), and royal intermarriage

  • Rositta

    I think in this instance he should not have been sent to jail, but I don’t think sex between siblings in a good idea. Where would humankind be if it were common practice?

  • Christina

    I don’t think sex between siblings is a great idea, but I think it’s kinda none of my business. And I think it happens more often than people are aware of (even now), I can think of several examples right off the top of my head in the Egyptian and Roman royalty. It’s not the healthiest thing for the gene pool to be sure, the geneticist in the CNN report said there is a 50% chance that the children will have problems (not sure where he gets this number), but that’s the same probability as many other hereditary diseases if one or both parents are carriers ( Should people with muscular dystrophy not be allowed to procreate? The probabilities are the same that their kids will be disabled, and they are also aware of this fact.

    In doing genealogy, I’d have to say first cousin marriages are/were pretty darn common. According to the relationship calculator on my family tree program, King Henry II of England is my 24th and 25th great-grandfather, my half 1st cousin 26 and 27 times removed, and my half 3rd cousin 28 times removed.

    So there are quite a few loops in everyone’s family trees if you go back a bit. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenedes is an interesting book that deals with incestuous love among Greek immigrants to America and how this can be going on in modern times (the book is tasteful, not salacious – and all it takes is moving to a new place where no one knows you).

  • rita

    the first time i heard about this case was nearly two years ago. our local newspaper was one of the first to publish this story. they had an interview with their lawyers and how they planned at that time to challenge the german legal system. but afterwards, not a single other newspaper or telly-station was repoting anything about the case. i had nearly forgotten about it all, until i read that article on spiegel some weeks ago. it’s frustrating to see how slow such procedures can go.

    and i do agree with you: they are two consenting adults. ok, they’re children might have a genetic disorder, but the risk is no higher than women in their forties giving birth to ill children. and somehow i fail to see the government to put a ban on that…

  • Maria

    Wow! I know that Arkansas has had problems with their laws re: marrying in family too. I think there it is that you need to be at least second cousins or something like that. Most states in the US regulate this and/or require a blood test prior to marriage to clarify ones genetic relationship.

    That being said– I say let people do what they want. It’s their life, their business, and they have to deal with consequences if there is a problem (i.e. disabled children, society’s comments, etc).

  • J

    Patrick and Susan didn’t even know of each other’s existence until Patrick was over 20 years old and Susan was in her teens. After their mother died, they lived together and eventually fell in love.

    There are issues here, as far as the CNN article goes (perhaps you can have Rainer read the German article and see if it’s a bit clearer – I can’t be bothered to read German today).

    Did they know that they were brother and sister when they learned of each other’s existence? If so, then I consider it wrong and he’s right to be in jail. Perhaps I’m an old fuddy duddy, but I do consider incest to be wrong, even if it’s between two consenting adults. However, we also don’t know if she was over the age of consent (‘in her teens’ could be 13).

    Unsurprisingly complicated age of consent laws for Germany (

    • 18 years in dependency relationships (teacher/student etc.)
    • 16 years if the older partner is over 18 and coerces the younger partner into sex other than by physical means, or if the older partner pays the younger partner to have sex (prostitution)
    • 16 years if the older partner is over 21 and exploits “lack of sexual self-determination” of the younger partner (only prosecuted after complaints or “public interest”, in practice rarely prosecuted with little or no punishment)
    • 14 years for all other sexual relationships

    If they didn’t know they were brother and sister before they got involved and started having kids, then I think that putting Patrick in jail was/is wrong if she was over the age of consent. However, I do feel that the marriage should be dissolved.

    My thoughts have nothing to do with disabled children – anyone can have two disabled children.

  • J

    Sorry, the first paragraph was from the CNN article.

  • Isabelle

    I first heard about this story on CNN too, but to be honest, I don’t think its all that shocking, nor should it be illegal in Germany, the US or any other country. Personally, I wouldn’t encourage such practices, but when you think about how many sperm donors, egg donors, and fertility clinics there are that preserve human embryos.. lets be realistic. These practices have existed for many years, especially in developed nations. I think the chances of this type of thing happening is on the increase, and the parties involved may never know unless they have reason to need DNA testing.. but by then, what is the point? It seems that since both Patrick and Susan were aware that they were siblings, they were also aware that it was illegal in Germany to engage in the relationship. I don’t think an injustice was done if Patrick spent time in jail over it, but I think the real injustice is what is happening to the children. If both of them are willing to be together, raise their family together, and love each other, no one should interfere with the childrens’ right to two loving parents – be they siblings or not.

  • Christina

    A summary of an earlier Spiegel article (,1518,467295,00.html):

    Patrick was adopted by a family in Potsdam and his sister did not know of his existence, she was raised by their mother. At 18, Patrick wanted to meet his natural mother and the Jugendamt (Dept of Youth Services) arranged for this. It doesn’t say, but if you do the math, it looks like Patrick was 18 and Susan was 16 when they met in 2000. Six months after meeting, their mother died, and Patrick moved in to care for Susan. They ended up falling in love and shortly thereafter she became pregnant.

    He was sent to prison for a year. After getting out, they had two more children. Patrick was sent to prison for 10 months and Susan was put under supervision for 6 months. Before Patrick left for prison, Susan became pregnant again.

    While he was in prison, his sister met another man, 49 year old Jürgen, and became pregnant with her fifth child.

    Patrick is out of prison now and living together with his sister again.

    Hmmm… maybe someone just needs to sit this girl down and give her a nice long talk about birth control.

  • Stacy

    Something isn’t right about this story. They keep saying the sister didn’t know she even had a brother, but then the Spiegel article says he met his mother six months before she died, and the sister was living with her. He must be the most un-curious person on the planet, because I think if I were adopted and met my birth mother, my very first question would be “so are these my siblings?”

  • Christina

    @stacy: I can’t imagine that once he met his mom and sister that this wasn’t discussed. I think it’s just that the mom didn’t tell the sister that she’d given up a child for adoption until Patrick had made contact with her.

  • Stacy

    So you’re saying they knew ahead of time, but decided to be a couple anyway?

    I think the thing I find most interesting is how matter-of-fact people (at least on your blog) seem to be about this. In the US half the people would say they should be sent to a mental institution, and the other half would say that at least the kids should be taken away (which I guess they were)

  • Christina

    @stacy: Yeah, from what I understand they knew they were siblings before getting involved.

    And my readers are so matter-of-fact because they rock! 😉

    Actually, it’s what happens to Americans when you live in Europe for a while. You turn into liberal commie atheists. :-)

    I just figure that there are enough fucked up relationships out there that nobody does anything about (ahem, Britney & Kevin, just to start with), why should this be treated any differently. Yes, these people probably need serious counseling, but so do hundreds of thousands of other parents out there.

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