Adoption as Social Institution: A Matrix of Ethical Dilemmas
H. David Kirk, Ph.D., University of Waterloo, Canada
Adoption has so many facets fraught with deep emotion that is impossible to be free of bias, especially for those with personal links to it. For David Kirk, an adoptive father who also wanted to research the world of the adoptive family objectively, art served as a reminder of both feelings and thought associated with adoption. One symbol which served to remind him of the complexity of the adoptive situation was Picasso's painting, La Vie, showing a naked couple (childlessness?) and a clothed woman with an infant (single motherhood?). Later it was the drawing of one of his young children that impressed on him the hidden realities of the meaning of being adopted.
Change and innovations inevitably produce a variety of often conflicting perspectives and standards in societies. Lack of consensus regarding appropriate practices leads to a host of ethical dilemmas. Institution-based ethics - ethical codes in the form of consensual customs and laws - attempt to provide human society with a guide for ethical conduct. In modern adoption, adoption law attempts to play this role. Much of the current adoption legislation, however, is not always successful in ethically serving its "intended beneficiaries."
Adopted persons are the only individuals denied the right to access information about themselves. While some states grant adopted persons copies of their original birth certificates and release to them information about birth families, most continue to deny adoptees access to this information. As revealing the truth to children about their adoptions becomes the norm, closed record laws - created to maintain the illusion that adoptive families are their children's birth families - are no longer necessary.
A comparison of foreign and domestic adoption laws - both past and present - may shed light on current adoption practices. In Nazi Germany, adoption used children in the interests of the racist state. In contrast, our current laws are much more ethical, as they intend to be concerned with the interests of children. Thus, in spite of the flaws in the current system, the humane intent gives hope for rational change.
"Shared Fate presumed that the integration of the adoptive family was the adoption community's shared goal. Now it appears that this is not the case. Some seem to object to the adoptee's exclusive membership in the adoptive family. What issues arise from such an objection? Would it be ethical to limit the child's full attachment to the adoptive family? Is it ethical to let others compete for the child's allegiance? The term birth family is apparently used to challenge the hegemony of the adoptive family. If reform of the institution of adoption is wanted, is it ethical or even practical to undermine the adoptive family?"