Tuesday, July 19, 2016

DNA Game Changer - Part I: Thoughts on the "birthparent privacy" argument



Legislative efforts to restore access to original birth certificates have, unfortunately, focused primarily on search and reunion.  Emotional testimony from adoptees, first parents and "adoption experts" have been countered by equally emotional testimony and speeches by agencies, legislators, and other "adoption experts".  There is talk of "balancing the rights" and "compromise" as if any other individual's rights to his or her OWN record of birth is also subject to permission from the state, a judge, or the parents named thereon. 

Advocates focusing on restoring the right to access birth records have tried to keep the two separate, pointing out that, in most states, even reunited adoptees are not allowed access to their own birth records, and that the birth records of long deceased adoptees are unavailable to their descendants. 

Mutual consent registries, like the one in New York, will typically "reunite" registrants that have been matched but access to the birth record still requires a court order which a judge will not give you because "you already have the information". Other states will provide a "birth transcript" or "identifying information contained in the birth record" but not the birth record itself.  For those who need the information to advance their searches, the chance of having the information within their grasp is enough to make them support "compromise" legislation that may be to the near term and long term detriment of themselves and many of their fellow adoptees.

But what if we could separate "search and reunion" from access to the original birth record?  What if there was a better way to search that would reveal information that was not on the original birth record or even in the adoption file?

Once upon a time, sealed records were impediments to search and reunion.  If an adoptee did not have access to his or her sealed adoption file, there was little chance that a search for family could even be started, much less successfully completed.  Successful searches relied upon adoptive parents retaining a memory of a name mentioned or a document seen.  In direct contradiction of what courts, legislators and agencies are NOW telling us, some adoptive parents were actually GIVEN documents that contained the names of the relinquishing parents.

As time went on, laws changed and adoptees were given "non-identifying information" as a pacifier in lieu of access to the original birth record. While not a restoration of access rights, "non-ID" was a tremendous boost for many searches. Some states even passed legislation to provide birth information access for some or all of their adoptees. Adding online resources for genealogy, people search and social media to the mix initiated a flood of successful searches along with a growing population of adoptees (and descendants of adoptees) who had never searched before because they had zero information to start with.

The argument started to shift.  On the one hand, advocates demanded equal rights to that Simple Piece of Paper. Not reunion. Not medical history. Just the birth record. On the other hand, opponents were still pushing the "what if your mother doesn't want to be found?" argument. Advocates explained that there were "plenty of other ways" for searches to be completed but opponents countered with "we don't have to make it easier for you", implying that only a few lucky adoptees were successful in their searches and that sealed records would still prevent the vast majority of adoptees from "intruding" on an unsuspecting birthmother's life.

Then came the DNA revolution.