It seemed almost a miracle--three young men, strangers who had grown up in separate families, discovering by accident that they were identical triplets.
The public devoured their inspiring story as it made headlines around the country in 1980. The three, who had grown up in the New York area, appeared on "Good Morning America," "Today," "Donahue" and "Geraldo Rivera." A movie was in the works.
But for all the media coverage, a side of this seemingly happy story has remained untold for 17 years, a secret about their childhood that stunned the triplets, Eddy Galland of New Hyde Park, David Kellman of Queens and Robert Shafran of Scarsdale.
For when they found one another at age 19, they also realized that they had been part of a human experiment, funded partly by the National Institutes of Health.
For years the same researchers came to each of their homes under the guise of conducting a "child development study." Throughout their childhoods, their behavior had been charted, their personalities monitored, their relationships with their adoptive parents scrutinized. The same researchers had gone from the Gallands to the Kellmans to the Shafrans, never telling the boys or their parents the study's true nature or that the boys' identical siblings were living nearby.
Other children were studied, as well, including about a dozen pairs of identical twins put up for adoption through the same agency that placed the triplets--Louise Wise Services of New York City.
Seventeen years after they first learned of the study, the two surviving triplets still harbor feelings of anger.
"How can you do this with little children? How can you do this to a little baby--innocent children being torn apart at birth?" asked Shafran, who now lives in Brooklyn and is entering law practice.
Kellman, now of Maplewood, N.J., wonders why he couldn't have grown up with his brothers. "We were robbed of 20 years together," said Kellman, the proprietor of Triplets Roumanian Steak House in New York City.
The third triplet, Eddy Galland, committed suicide in 1995 at his home in Maplewood. He left behind a wife and a young daughter. Neither his widow nor his parents, Elliott and Annette Galland of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., responded to a request for an interview.
Their adoption agency had cooperated in developing the study, an apparently unprecedented project to monitor separated twins and triplets as they grew up. Researchers hoped it would shed light on the debate about environment vs. heredity.
A lawyer for Louise Wise Services, Nancy Ledy-Gurren, said the study involved twins placed by other adoption agencies, as well.
Today, advocates for adoptees voice outrage over the project, and several twins researchers and former adoption agency directors not involved in the study express discomfort over separating twins.
"I feel it's a terribly destructive thing to do to separate siblings," said Florence Anna Fisher, director of the Adoptees Liberty Movement Assn., a New York City advocacy group for adoptees. "I think it's criminal to separate twins and triplets because they are attached in perpetuity. It's like chopping off a limb."
Dr. Thomas Bouchard, a leading twins researcher at the University of Minnesota, said he would "just never approve of separating subjects." He added, "It just does not feel right to me."
Partly because of that, Bouchard said, he had never requested data from Dr. Peter Neubauer, the New York City psychoanalyst who directed the study.
Neubauer, now 84, defended his work as important and said that the subjects would have been separated anyway under a policy of Louise Wise Services.
"They were not separated for research purposes," Neubauer said. "They [Louise Wise Services] decided to do it, and then they came to me. When we learned about the policy, we decided it gives one an extraordinary opportunity for research."
Ledy-Gurren said Louise Wise Services' activities must be viewed in the context of the time in which they were carried out, when less emphasis was placed on keeping siblings together.
"There are many remedies that don't stand the test of time but nevertheless had validity and good faith behind them," she said. "I think that's what we're dealing with here--a community of people who thought the best interest of the child was in separation and placed the child for the child's benefit."
In all cases, she said, the biological mothers consented to the separation of the children.
A representative for the National Institutes of Health said that Neubauer received a grant of $9,642 in 1965 to conduct a study entitled "Longitudinal Study of Monozygotic Twins Reared Apart," and that the agency could not comment without reviewing records on the project. The study was funded by the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Neubauer also received funding from at least two private foundations.