Forbidden Fruit

Inbreeding among polygamists along the Arizona-Utah border is producing a caste of severely retarded and deformed children

He estimates the test would cost about $50 per sample and would provide crucial information to community members of who is carrying the recessive gene that causes fumarase deficiency.

Until the test is available, Tarby says, the best prevention measure remains refraining from crossing Barlows, Jessops and their relations -- who make up half the population of the polygamist enclave.

It's unlikely the polygamous community will heed the doctor's advice.

Dr. Theodore Tarby says FLDS polygamists will continue producing children afflicted with severe physical and mental disorders.
Peter Scanlon
Dr. Theodore Tarby says FLDS polygamists will continue producing children afflicted with severe physical and mental disorders.
Polygamist patriarch Joseph Smith Jessop with his youngest daughter shortly before his death in September 1953.
Life Magazine
Polygamist patriarch Joseph Smith Jessop with his youngest daughter shortly before his death in September 1953.

Even the few highly educated people there, including a medical doctor who practices at the Hildale Health Center, refuse to accept advice from any outsider, including doctors such as Tarby, who has treated their children for years.

"They don't believe anything written about Colorado City [by outsiders, even medical experts] carries much truth," Tarby says.

For Colorado City and Hildale to avoid more fumarase, polygamist leaders must use their authority to make sure that those potentially carrying the fumarase gene are not allowed to marry, says geneticist Aleck.

The leaders must also understand the ethical considerations of continuing behavior, he says, that is bringing children into the world who suffer tragic deformities.

"They have the authoritarian structure necessary to keep this from happening, but I don't think they have the advanced thinking," Aleck says.

"I try in my own, quiet way and tell them to outbreed. But that's like spitting in the ocean."

The ultimate decision on marriages rests with FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs. And Jeffs so far has shown no indication that he is concerned about the increasing prevalence of fumarase deficiency children in the community, former FLDS member Isaac Wyler says.

Even if a genetic screening test were available, Wyler says, Jeffs would have to be cautious about how he allowed it to be implemented. If the FLDS faithful believed that Jeffs was relying on science to determine marriages rather than divine revelation from God, he could lose control of the church.

"Warren has to be really careful that he doesn't lose his position as a god to these people," Wyler says.

FLDS marriages, Wyler and other community experts say, are an extension of a breeding program that began with Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith in the 1830s. The early Mormon Church practiced polygamy until 1890, when leaders abandoned the practice as a condition for Utah to gain statehood. The FLDS was formed by Mormons who refused to give up polygamy.

Warren Jeffs, like Joseph Smith before him, has emphasized the importance of obedience among members of the church. Jeffs is following a long-established practice -- started by Smith 170 years ago -- of excommunicating those who do not strictly adhere to church leaders' commands.

"The 'gene' that Warren is really selecting for," Wyler says, "is the 'obedience gene.'

"Joseph Smith was also selecting for the 'obedience gene.' He was kicking people out, too, who weren't obedient.

"I hate to talk like this about my own genealogy," Wyler says, "but, literally, they are keeping all the breeding stock -- the women, the [strictly faithful] men -- and weeding out the disobedient men."

The ultimate goal of the breeding program, Wyler says, is to create the perfect race.

"Remember how Hitler was trying to breed a perfect race?" he says. "Warren Jeffs is also trying to breed a perfect race."

The widespread presence of the fumarase deficiency gene in the bloodlines of the founding families of Colorado City is going to make reaching any such goal extremely difficult.

The few dissenters in the community say the serious genetic problems that are beginning to surface are an indication that the closed FLDS society could eventually collapse.

"Maybe it will just self-destruct," historian Bistline says of the fundamentalist church he quit 20 years ago because of a dispute over religious doctrine and property ownership. "In the meantime, the taxpayers have to pay the bills."

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Hey Ben Bistline! You are my father-inlaw. How is annie Jessop? her blood lines came from the beginning, right??? Oh yeh! You just married her reciently. To bad my husband Patrick or call name Packy pasted away before his 40th birthday. I am so surprised you have not or when Patrick was alive had contacted your grand children. You came once and said you have seen it before to ole packy, don't get close, I have seen this in kids before. To everyone; my son is very much alive. 20 years later. Ben now tell the truth. How is annie Jessop. Check on annie Jessop/bistline.  Look at the family pictures. Ben; now who did what. Loard, let ben bistline tell the truth. That is if annie Jessop/bistline will let him. Ben didn't your mom come from logan ut. You were born in logan. Right???  Love ya!    Marie Bistline Your son that has passes away wife and his children. Thanks on the different deises that you didn't tell me about'  reasearching for my children and you came up like the flu.

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