A Reader Response to DWLA Post “What About the Rights of Adoptees”

In yesterday’s post by Luanne, “What About the Rights of Adoptees,” we posted a poll which is still open for voting on the issue of adoptee rights. We had more private responses than we did comments. One of the emails we received contained a lengthy response–an essay really–and we wanted to share it with you because of the effort the writer put into it. The writer asked us not to use his/her name and we are honoring that request.

Dear DWLA:

I actually wanted to vote twice — I do think all adoptees should automatically have the right to access medical information for all the reasons you mention in your article. I also believe the privacy rights of birth parents and adoptive parents should be respected — that the rights of all three sides of the “triad” need to be balanced. I realize that this is controversial, but the consequences you stated with regard to genetic testing (people not wanting to be contacted) apply equally to the unsealing of medical records. If those who are advocating for the unsealing of records put as much time and effort into establishing a nation-wide registry and medical records database, their time would (in my opinion) be better spent.

In all the talk of “rights” we can never forget that rights always have a corresponding responsibility. When the “rights” of parents (whether to give life to a child, or raise him to adulthood) supersede his or her responsibilities as parents, society must bear the burden of that abdication of responsibility. This is happening all across the country today — women who are ill-prepared to parent are pressured either to abort their children, or raise the child themselves. And it is the children who are suffering — a suffering that is far greater and with far more long-reaching effects. Until adoption is given the respect and support of society it deserves, carefully balancing the rights and responsibilities of all three parties in the adoption triad, we are setting ourselves up to fail not only our own children, but THEIR children as well.

While adults do have the right to their medical records, they do NOT have the right to disrupt the lives of those with whom they share a biological connection if those individuals have relinquished those connections legally and (in their minds) permanently. In connection with my graduate studies, I talked with a dozen adoptees who went out searching at the age of 18 for members of their birth families — and almost without exception, each of them (in retrospect) realized they were not prepared for what they found, that they wished that they had waited until they were more mature and able to handle what followed (if they had searched at all). Others may have different experiences, but the fact remains: At a time when many young adults are already straining to form a separate identity from their parents, this quest for “real” mom and dad has the potential to cause a great deal of pain and anguish on all sides. Adoptees may one day have the “right” to this information — but will they also accept the responsibility of using this information in a way that respects the wishes and intentions of their parents — ALL their parents? Will they, in the end, assume an adult role and take responsibility not only for their own emotional well-being, but tend to the needs of their family members as well?

I’m not saying that adult adoptees are wrong to be angry about losing their first families, or wanting to bond with them in adulthood. There are all kinds of childhood traumas that we must deal with as adults — abusive parents, death and loss, alcoholism, violence, a wide spectrum of hurts that must be reconciled and given appropriate context if we are to grow into strong, healthy, self-reliant adults who are capable of raising the next generation. The fact is, not every adult adoptee seeks his or her birth family. Not every adult adoptee who FINDS that family is less traumatized by the experience. Not all adoptive parents are stellar examples of parenting (I count myself among them. Every day I ask myself if my children might have been better off today if I had done x or y for them when they were younger. Every parent does this — not just the adoptive ones.) Not all single parents are unfit (I have a niece who is a good example of this — with the strong support of her family, she has raised a beautiful son, co-parenting with the child’s biological father.) But those who do the parenting, who take on that responsibility, have corresponding rights == and not just until the child is 18.

Since you did ask for opinions, I wanted to share mine. I hope you find it helpful.

Best wishes,

DWLA reader


  1. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    DWLA reader, thank you so much for this thoughtful, thought-provoking post. I am the adoptive mother of a wonderful young woman of 18, who was born in China to her first parents and adopted by my family when she was six months old. I know a handful of adult adoptees who did go searching for their birthparents and, as you described above, were unhappy and sometimes heartbroken at the end of the process.

  2. DWLA reader said: “Adoptees may one day have the “right” to this information — but will they also accept the responsibility of using this information in a way that respects the wishes and intentions of their parents — ALL their parents?”

    Please explain why the adoptee is the one required to respect the wishes and intentions of both parents? Why not the reverse? Why should the only party who had no say be required to be the one who complies? Makes no sense.

    My adoption records were unsealed for cause – no the judge did not contact my natural family for permission – although I had to actually go through two life-threatening events and the dx of a rare disease to actually qualify for that. Now consider if I had access to my records all along and known my mother, grandmother, uncle all died from the first of the two events I had – also at a very early age. Don’t you think “that” info would have been more valuable to me before my events, when I was misdiagnosed – instead of after? That could have been the case if the adoption “industry” had not fought for the last three plus decades to keep our records sealed…

    And the irony of it all – the adoption law in effect at the time of my adoption allowed for the adopting parents to keep the records unsealed – but that meant the public as in John Smith could access them too. If they chose sealed – they had the right to access the records on request…so much for the rights of any natural parents at the time to privacy when the adopting parents had that choice and options. Also note, no privacy rights for the natural mother were ever mentioned in the adoption law in my state either…it was only after my adoption that the law changed and records were retroactively sealed from all parties. My parents signed the adoption petition that had my mothers name on it – so much for privacy.

    People believe that what they are told about the sealed records are factual and they aren’t. Every state had different laws and slowly changed them over the course of many years – many from my era had their records sealed retroactively when the laws changed…yes, I have read the changes to the adoption laws in my state by year.

    The confidentiality that mothers sought was from “society” so they went away and came back without the baby – that is what the reality is in regards to privacy and confidentiality. Many mothers were told we would get our records when we turned 18. Others never were told records were sealed away.

    Finally – Oregon changed their laws in 2000 and for a year mothers had the right to file a contact preference form – something like 88 requested no contact – by the ten year anniversary over 10,000 adoptees had filed for the original birth certificates. Furthermore, two years out from the law change they did a study on the first wave of adoptees to receive their original birth certificates – of those who did search – the sky didn’t fall – no harm was done.

  3. Tao, you make some great points here and also you showcase how confusing and inconsistent the laws are related to adoption. I don’t think DWLA reader will weigh in here, but I’m glad you posted your opinion for others to read. I’m so sorry you had to go through such a medical nightmare and to fight so hard to get the information you needed. That is exactly why I believe that adoptees have the right to medical histories. I have seen firsthand how dangerous it can be not to have that necessary information. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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