Give adopted people unencumbered access to origins
This was originally published in the Albany Times Union.
Two bills recently passed by the state Legislature purport to relate to “adoptee rights,” but instead pay homage to outmoded and stigmatizing practices that deny adopted people the right to know the truth of their birth.
The legislation (A.5036-B/S.4845-B), sponsored by Assemblyman David Weprin, D-Queens, and Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, do not have the support of the majority of the adoption community. The bills flagrantly discount abundant social science research, best practices and the lived experiences of adoption. Yet following a last-minute Senate vote, the legislation is on its way to the governor’s desk, in the absence of any evidence that supports its enactment.
Many people are unaware that the majority of adopted people in the United States are denied their origins from the moment their adoptions are finalized in court — an action that seals their original birth certificate in perpetuity. Yet, public opinion research by the Donaldson Adoption Institute demonstrates that when the public learns of this plight, the majority favor an adopted person’s right to access his or her own vital record.
An original birth certificate is a vital record for a reason. It confirms ethnicity, which carries great meaning both in terms of identity development and medical needs. Furthermore, having access to your genetic history is potentially lifesaving. Yet countless adopted people, including those in New York, are kept in the dark by antiquated policies rooted in a time when adoption was shrouded in secrecy and tainted with shame.
Most importantly, denying adopted people their original birth certificate treats them unequally next to their non-adopted peers.
Today, best practices in adoption speak to openness, honesty, extended family relationships and transparency. There is ample research to support openness in adoption, just as there is solid evidence that demonstrates support for an adopted person’s unrestricted access to his or her original birth certificate. Providing adults who were adopted with this access does not threaten the integrity of adoptive families or the institution of adoption. Rather, it lends itself to healthier outcomes for individuals and families.
Contrary to best practices and research, this legislation creates a cumbersome system of checks, balances and permissions in order for an adopted person, as an adult, to request his or her original birth certificate. This system requires court petitions, allows judicial “discretion” surrounding release, and has the potential to be costly to both the individual requester and the state. This convoluted system seems to do little more than further complicate the status quo and will most likely continue to leave the majority of adopted people in the dark about basic elements of their own humanity.
Knowing all the parts that make you who you are is not an adoption need; it’s a human need. Yet it is only adopted people who have to defend this need and are regularly denied this right. It is critical that we end this human rights violation and create solutions in which adopted people have unencumbered access to the truth of their origins, just like their non-adopted peers.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo should veto this legislation as a matter of human rights. If allowed to become law, it will continue to keep adopted people from their truth, and adoption hidden in secrecy and tainted by stigma.
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