|My mom, dad, me and family, a month before her diagnosis
And yet it moves. Eppur si muove. These were the rebellious words uttered by Galileo from prison after he was condemned by the Catholic church for continuing to insist that the earth was not the center of the universe, that it moved around the sun. Many intellectuals of the day also condemned him, so attached were they to their own world views. Galileo, a devout Roman Catholic and an intellectual, cared both about his faith and scientific truth, and it is exactly because of this that he could not be silent in the face of what he knew to be true. And yet it moves.
My mom, an adoptee, passed away in April of 2014. There are two truths about her death, and I cannot be silent about them. First, she died from melanoma, a (censored) disease that not even the most wonderful oncologist in the world, with the highest level of training, was able to stop. She was diagnosed in July, still feeling wonderful, after finding a small lump in her leg. A week later, knowing what lie ahead but still feeling healthy, she awoke one beautiful Saturday morning at the beach to see that two dark, ugly spots of melanoma had now appeared, one on her toe and one on her face. It was confirmation that this (censored) disease was now coursing through her, maliciously and aggressively. It was horrible. Good people fought valiantly on her behalf. My mom fought valiantly. But in the end, it was not enough. We lost her.
My mom also perhaps died, and certainly suffered needlessly, because she was an adoptee. She was blocked by the state (in this case New Jersey) from seeing her original birth certificate because of an antiquated law (now changed), and thus she was blocked from her true and complete medical history (the information the adoption agency released to her was flawed, at best). She was also blocked from being able to communicate directly with her biological family, and thus from knowing two wonderful sisters for the last 16 years of her life. Not knowing that melanoma was present in her biological family likely contributed to her physician missing the melanoma when her symptoms first occurred. As with all cancers, timely diagnosis and treatment is crucial for survival. When she looked into going to court to have her birth certificate unsealed, the lawyer with whom she consulted let her know that she had little chance of winning because she "already had cancer."
Because of this -- because having her original birth certificate sealed from her was perhaps as responsible for her death as the melanoma itself, and certainly responsible for much unneeded suffering -- it is difficult for me to read about the testimony of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Administrator of Orphans' Court Services against Pennsylvania House Bill 162, which was passed unanimously by the House in October 2013, then stalled in the Senate without a vote prior to the end of the 2014 term. HB 162 would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. The ACLU also sent a letter opposing the bill, which was equally difficult for me to read.
In past years Pennsylvania Catholic Charities has testified -- without any facts to support their arguments -- that unsealing birth certificates would lead to more abortions. The facts support the opposite. Abortion rates in states where records have been unsealed have actually decreased slightly. This year, perhaps recognizing this, the Pennsylvania Catholic Charities' testimony centers more around its "concern" for birthparent privacy. As a Catholic, I find this testimony particularly upsetting, and misleading. Many birthparents have testified in support of this law (and Catholic Charities in other states has actually reversed its position and supported similar laws). Birthparents have a right to privacy from prying public eyes, yes, and from harassment. We all do. This law provides for privacy. It just does not allow for secrecy. Adoptees, on the other hand, currently have to share the most intimate details of their life just to possibly get their birth certificates (by going through an intermediary, or petitioning the court). I have one adopted friend who has never searched simply because when she learned everything she had to go through (for the mutual consent registry), she found it all too daunting. There are many adoptees, and birthparents, like her.
The Administrator for Orphans' Court Services speaks of "profound and grave consequences" for birthparents if this law is passed based on her "many years of experience doing search services." One only need to look at the many states that have already enacted similar legislation -- where there have been no "profound and grave consequences" -- to realize that this is not the case. As a side note, when I searched on Google for this administrator's name, to learn more about her (why would anyone, especially someone involved in adoption and claiming to care deeply about the welfare of all involved, oppose this law?), the first link that appeared was one detailing the fees charged for "Adoption Search Inquiries" ($50 for non-identifying information, $150 if you want more -- and this is only after the court approves your petition). As a non-adoptee, I could get my birth certificate easily for $20.
And the ACLU? Andy Hoover, ACLU of Pennsylvania legislative director, said in an open letter earlier this month: "HB 162 upends the respect for privacy in adoption procedures. Pennsylvania law already allows adoptees' access to important medical and social information of their biological parents without disrupting the privacy of the birth parents' identifying information." No, it does not. Adoptees are suffering, and yes, even dying, because the current system does not work for them. Many, many adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents have testified to this. I lived it with my mom. So let me say it again, emphatically: the current system (registries, mutual consent, etc) does not work. And the law now being considered does allow for birth parent privacy (with the contact preference form). I have not once heard of an adoptee taking out a billboard to reveal to the world the identity of her biological parents. We are talking about a person's right to know his or her true identity. It is a human right, and the ACLU should know that. Instead, they defend sealed records as an extension of a woman's right to reproductive health, equating an adoptee to an abortion. I may not have a law degree, but I can see the glaring fallacies in this argument from afar.
So shame on you, Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Orphans' Court Services, and Pennsylvania ACLU. You may talk and talk about the need for sealed records despite mountains of evidence to the contrary -- you may even believe in the sanctity of your cause -- but those who know the truth, who care about life (ALL life) and liberty (ALL liberty) will not be silent. I support them. In time, I believe everyone will. And yet it moves. Eppur si muove.
DEAR PENNSYLVANIA FRIENDS, HB 162 WILL BE VOTED ON THIS MONTH OR NEXT. PLEASE, IF YOU CAN, CALL THE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH (ESPECIALLY IF IN YOUR DISTRICT - I'VE LISTED LINKS TO OUR AREA BELOW) AND EXPRESS YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE BILL. IF YOU KNEW MY MOM, OR KNOW ME, YOU CAN DO SO IN HER MEMORY. SHE KEPT FIGHTING FOR THIS LAW, EVEN AFTER SHE HAD HER OWN INFORMATION, BECAUSE SHE SO BELIEVED IN ITS IMPORTANCE FOR ALL OTHERS. I BELIEVE IN IT TOO. THANK YOU! -Jenn
Acosta, Leslie (Philadelphia County, District 197)
Brownlee, Michelle (Philadelphia County, District 195)
Conklin, Scott, Minority Chair
DeLissio, Pamela (Philadelphia County -- offices on Ridge Ave!)
Kinsey, Stephen (Philadelphia, 201st District, went to Germantown HS)
Lewis, Harry (Chester County)
Maloney, David (Berks County)
McCarter, Stephen (Montgomery County)
Moul, Dan, Vice Chair
Rozzi, Mark (Berks County)
Santarsiero, Steven (Bucks County)
Santora, James (grew up in Drexel Hill!)
Watson, Katharine, Chair (Bucks County - went to UPenn)