Why is the importance of DNA recognized in virtually every area of life except for adoption? University of California medical researcher Gregory Stock, who studies the make-up of genes for a living, writes that "genes are the biggest windows into who we are." The U.S. Surgeon General encourages all Americans to learn more about their family health histories so that "your doctor can predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy."
Adoptees, of course, can see the impact of genes all around them. My husband and I have two daughters: one looks like me, and the other looks like him. One of my daughters is developing the same arthritis in her fingers that both my husband and his mother experienced. One of my granddaughters looks just like her mother. Another grandson looks just like his father.
But somehow, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, we adoptees are supposed to buy the adoption myth that genes just don't matter. Those folks who conceived you couldn't raise you, we're told, so just forget about them. Somehow, they are a part of you, but that fact shouldn't concern you. The only people who matter in your life are the parents who loved and raised you.
Now I care deeply for the parents who loved and raised me. But why can't people see the logical inconsistencies in the common and oft-repeated assumptions listed above? The data from those states that have opened their birth records to adult adoptees tells us that most original parents are quite happy to discover that their offspring have fared well in life. It likewise tells us that the vast majority of original mothers are more than willing to share information that would help their offspring to live healthier lives. Why then does the opposition remain so devoted to blocking Adoptee Rights bills that would enable those adopted, as adults, to secure their original records of birth?
Once the facts are acknowledged, the viewpoints of opposing groups like Right to Life, the Catholic Conference of Bishops, and state Bar Associations make no sense. Right to Life assumes that more openness in adoption will lead to more abortions, but these assumptions have proven false. There is no link between abortion and adoption, as many studies have shown. In fact, the rate of abortions seems to decline when there is more transparency in adoption. Kansas, for example, one of two states that never sealed the original birth certificates of adoptees, has always had a lower per capita abortion rate than any of the "sealed" states surrounding it. Ten years of data from states that have opened birth records to adult adoptees likewise shows that there is no link between more openness and abortion rates. Yet Right to Life continues to oppose Adoptee Rights bills; I can only conclude that their ideology blinds them to the factual data we've accumulated.
Another group opposed to Adoptee Birthright bills is the Catholic Conference of Bishops. Instead of granting adult adoptees the same right to access their original birth certificates that every other American enjoys, the Bishops suggest that we use mutual consent registries and confidential intermediary systems. Once again, we have a host of studies showing that mutual consent registries are highly ineffective, and that confidential intermediary systems are demeaning and unfair.
If you are not adopted, try to imagine, for a moment, a complete stranger in charge of the most personal and intimate details of your life. Imagine that stranger having access to your legal birth certificate and your personal history right in front of her, and then imagine that you are not allowed, by law, to see it. To get to this point in your quest for information, you have had to pay a $400 fee. Some have questioned your psychological make-up and characterized your search for your own original parents as "idle curiosity." I can't even put into words how insulting and disempowering some of these agency "confidential intermediary" programs really are.
The Catholic Bishops, perhaps, have good reasons for opposing Adoptee Birthright bills, but their purported concern for birth mother privacy is once again not supported by the facts. Could the Bishops' opposition have more to do with the widespread scandals concerning unethical adoption practices that have recently surfaced in Australia, Ireland, Spain and Canada, and that are just now coming to light here in America? Given the Bishops' track record on other social issues, the answer, sadly, I think is yes.
After the Catholic lobbies, the next significant group to oppose Adoptee Birthright bills is the state Bar Association. Like the Bishops, bar association representatives testify that they are concerned about birth mother privacy. They seem surprised to learn that hardly any original mothers say they do not wish to be contacted in the contact preference forms that states restoring adoptees' civil rights provide. Even more significant is that they do not seem to care. Could the opposition of the Bar Associations have more to do with the $30,000 to $50,000 fees that couples sometimes must pay to negotiate an adoption? Again, as in the Bishops' case, it seems likely that the opposition is based on its own self-interest, and certainly not on "the best interest of the child."
Advocating for adoptee rights is frustrating and exhausting. In the political arena, the voices of those actually affected by adoption are almost always overshadowed by the voices of those who profit from adoption, or those who base their opinions on unyielding ideologies, which are in turn supported by false assumptions. Meanwhile, year after year, the civil rights of adoptees, who cannot afford the time or expense to lobby full-time, continue to be violated.
It is unjust to continue treating a whole class of people differently from all other Americans. The state has no right to ban me from securing my own original birth certificate, or to try and obstruct me from knowing my own genealogy. We need more adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents to join the state-by-state movements to unseal birth records for adult adoptees. We need to challenge pervasive adoption myths and acknowledge the facts. As human beings, we are products of our nurturing and of our DNA. Every member of the adoption triad deserves to be treated with respect. And adult adoptees must be recognized by law as the mature, autonomous people they are.