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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Ethics: opening adoption records

How to do homework and blog at the same time: cyber-brainstorming.

The paper I'm writing for my Ethics class has to do with adoption-- specifically, the debate over retroactively opening previously sealed adoption records ( a practice dating back roughly to the 1920's - 30's), and allowing birthparents and adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. How to approach this subject, from a Christian virtue/narrative perspective?

I'm in the process of firming up my arguments, and would appreciate hearing any thoughts on the subject. To start you off, here's some of the stuff swimming around in my head:

Originally, the argument for closed records circled around the idea of protection from social stigma-- primarily illegitimacy, and infertility. Although both sexes share responsibility for these issues equally, they culturally impact women far more than they do men. So-- how much is the legal sealing of records an act of protective confidentiality, and how much is it harmful secrecy, perpetuating stereotypes and misconceptions?

Likewise, the justification for both closed and opened records has long been that “it is in the best interest of the child.” How much of this is an attempt to prevent “the sins of the fathers from being visited upon the children,” and how much a refusal to acknowledge our own shortcomings?

Arguments for and against opening adoption records all seem to focus on the self-- on individual rights and needs. Yet, these decisions are neither made in a vacuum, nor do they affect solely the parties involved in the “triad” of birthparents/adoptive parents/adoptee. What about the larger community? What would/should a community-focused response/argument look like?

There seems to be a pervasive societal sense of adoptive kinship as inferior, or false-- witness the terms “real” or “natural,” used especially when referring to a birthmother, over and against the adoptive parent(s). What makes families "real?" Biological relatedness? Legal and/or emotional attachment? Is one without the other insufficient?

Related to this is a sociological identification of the adoptee as “other,” not normal, not fitting in. Unfortunately, neither side departs significantly from this view-- depending on perspective, either the desire to seek out one’s birthparents, or the lack of that desire, is seen as evidence of pathological issues on the part of the adoptee. Why can we not assume that, like any other cultural segment of society, there will be disparities of need and opinion, and respect that?

What does the Christian narrative have to say about this? Consider Paul’s interpretation: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:15-17) No distinctions - adopted means family, period.

That's enough from me for now. Well? Any thoughts?


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