The anony­mous gift of adop­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

It sounds like a dream come true for the tens of thou­sands of adoptees in the U.S. — the abil­ity to find and re­con­nect with a birth par­ent or par­ents. That was the case for Maine Sen. Paula Benoit, whose highly pub­li­cized or­deal to find her birth par­ents not only led to meet­ing new rel­a­tives (at least three of whom are also iron­i­cally law­mak­ers) but also to leg­isla­tive ac­tion that changed the law in her state so that other adult adoptees could do the same. Her ef­forts pro­pelled and ini­ti­ated ef­forts in a hand­ful of other states to move for­ward with sim­i­lar mea­sures. But in the state of New Jer­sey, the mea­sure has failed sev­eral times — and for good rea­son.

What Mrs. Benoit failed to con­sider in her iden­tity quest is the po­ten­tially detri­men­tal ef­fect that her law (and oth­ers like it) to un­seal birth records could have on par­ents who choose to pri­vately put their child up for adop­tion. It is es­ti­mated that there are about 1 mil­lion chil­dren in the U.S. who live with adop­tive par­ents and 2 to 4 per­cent of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies in­clude an adopted child. There are sev­eral kinds of adop­tion ar­range­ments that in­clude open, closed (con­fi­den­tial), me­di­ated (non-iden­ti­fy­ing) and fully dis­closed. While the ma­jor­ity of adop­tions (69 per­cent) are open, those who choose to take such a step con­fi­den­tially should have that op­tion hon­ored, not over­turned.

Some adoptees cite med­i­cal and hered­ity rea­sons for track­ing down birth par­ents. And while that may be a le­git­i­mate con­cern in some cases, it is not the norm. In a study of Amer­i­can ado­les­cents, the Search In­sti­tute found that the ma­jor­ity of ado­les­cents sim­ply wanted to know what their par­ents “looked like” (94 per­cent) or “why” they were adopted (72 per­cent).

And, while open­ness can be a lib­er­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for birth par­ent and adoptee, it’s not for ev­ery­one. Some birth moth­ers have started new fam­i­lies and for per­sonal rea­sons may not want their iden­tity dis­closed. It should be up to them — when and if they want to share this in­for­ma­tion. Any­thing else is a clear in­va­sion of pri­vacy. Even adop­tion ad­vo­cates cau­tion adoptees when seek­ing out a birth par­ent about the kind of mis­takes that hap­pen when a ran­dom search goes awry. Search site adop­ warns: “Un­for­tu­nately, there have been cases of peo­ple con­tact­ing [. . .] birth­par­ents claim­ing to be their [. . .] child, or sib­ling when this is not the case. Be aware that this can hap­pen.”

There are other not-so-ob­vi­ous im­pli­ca­tions of tak­ing away a birth mother’s re­quest for con­fi­den­tial­ity. In USA To­day, Thomas Atwood, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Coun­cil for Adop­tion, sur­mised: “Birth moth­ers were promised pri­vacy, and if that prom­ise is bro­ken, fewer women will choose adop­tion over abor­tion.” Catholic groups have echoed this sen­ti­ment.

There are many fa­mous adop­tive par­ents — Al Roker, Michelle Pfeif­fer, Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son, Magic John­son — who are cham­pi­oned for their self­less acts of love. There are also fa­mous adoptees, in­clud­ing John Len­non and Vic­to­ria Row­ell, who are grate­ful for the lov­ing homes they were pro­vided. But you don’t of­ten hear about the not so “fa­mous” birth par­ents, who for per­sonal (likely hard­ship) rea­sons of their own choose to place their chil­dren up for adop­tion in the hope that it will pro­vide them a bet­ter life.

Adop­tion is of­ten re­ferred to as a gift. And just as char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions rely on private “gifts” from anony­mous donors, par­ents who give the gift of adop­tion also have a rea­son­able right to re­main anony­mous. It’s not up to the re­cip­i­ent to find the donor.

The state of Michi­gan gives a con­fi­den­tial-adop­tion birth mother the op­por­tu­nity to sub­mit her iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion to the state at any time, should she have a change of heart. Other states would do just as well to leave this choice up to the birth mother.

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