A Unique Look at Nature vs. Nurture

ByABC News via logo
August 17, 2005, 8:44 AM

Aug. 17, 2005 — -- Identical twins generally are not separated during adoptions, but Chinese officials had no record that Lily and Gillian were related at the time of their adoption in 2000.

As a result, the 6-year-olds are being raised by two different Canadian couples, but the parents have made concerted efforts to visit each other every few weeks so the sisters remain in contact. The unique experience is a fascinating glimpse into the age-old argument of whether nature or nurture has more of an impact on a child's development.

In February of 2000, the MacLeods and the Shaws traveled to China with an adoption group to pick up the newest members of their respective families. When they met their new baby girls, they couldn't help but notice how similar they appeared.

"On the record, they said no, the children were not twins," said Allyson MacLeod. "But off the record, they could not tell them apart and so they kept them in two separate rooms."

Neither family felt right about separating the sisters, but they were told if the adoptions didn't take place as planned, the babies would go back into the pool of potential adoptees and would still wind up separated.

"We had to look at the alternatives," Mike Shaw said. "Those alternatives were to have a larger extended family which would include us -- the Shaws -- and the MacLeods."

The Shaws and the MacLeods decided to raise the girls separately, but together. Gillian went to live with the Shaws, and their two children Eric and Heather. Lily went to live as a single child with the MacLeods. The families see each other every few weeks.

"This is a family situation and you do what you need to do for family," Kirk MacLeod said. "They are family."

The families have witnessed the girls develop in startlingly similar ways despite being in two different households.

"When Gillian took her first steps, I can remember calling Kirk and Allyson and they weren't home, so I left a message on the machine," Lynette Shaw said. "That evening they called back and Lily had also taken her first steps that day."