by Karen Caffrey
In the past it was possible to sweep inconvenient genetic secrets about babies born “out of wedlock”, as a result of extramarital affairs, or fathered by clergy, etc. under the proverbial rug.
The U.S. adoption system applied a toxic brew of shame, stigma, and secret maternity homes, with a dollop of patriarchy, to maintain the desired social order. People whose original identity was taken from them by this system (known as adoptees) were trapped in it. Only the privileged, wealthy, or lucky few could pierce the veil and discover the truth of their origins.
Consumer DNA testing has ended the era of genetic and adoption secrecy . Our laws and adoption practices should reflect this reality. SB 972- An Act Concerning Access to Birth Records by Adult Adopted Persons would accomplish this goal.
SB 972 would restore the right of the 39,600+/- adult adoptees born and adopted before October 1, 1983, and their adult children and grandchildren, to obtain the adoptee’s original birth certificate. All adult adoptees had this right before 1975. It was restored to post-October 1, 1983 adoptees in 2014.
Almost 300 testimonies in support of SB972 were submitted by adoptees, birth and adoptive parents and adoption professionals. The bill has been endorsed by the Connecticut State Medical Society, the Connecticut Council on Adoption and Concerned United Birthparents . A coalition of Connecticut-based, pro-woman organizations, led by the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization of Women, recently endorsed the bill.
Yet lingering concerns remain regarding the few birth mothers who may not wish their identity to be known, often because they’ve never told their families they relinquished a child. In a misguided attempt to “protect” birth mothers, opponents do not seem to grasp that current law places them at a far greater risk of public disclosure than SB 972.
MIT Technology Review estimates that, “By the start of 2019, more than 26 million consumers had added their DNA to four leading commercial ancestry and health databases, according to our estimates. If the pace continues, the gene troves could hold data on the genetic makeup of more than 100 million people within 24 months.” This explosion of DNA testing is allowing adoptees to find biological relatives easily and inexpensively.
It is not necessary for a birth parent to have tested their DNA as long as anyone in the familytree (a sibling, a niece, a first, second or even a third cousin) has tested. Equipped with this information plus social media and the internet, adoptees are finding their birth parents. Why pay $300-$500 to an adoption agency to conduct a months-long search of uncertain outcome, when for $59 and a little spit you can find your biological family in a few short weeks?
Imagine you are about to be contacted regarding a very personal matter involving another person. Would you want to receive a private phone call directly from that person? Or would you want it to come from your cousin, your niece, or even your own child, asking, “Hey, did give away a baby in the ‘60s? A woman showed up in my DNA test results who says she’s your daughter!”
Ellen Matloff, PhD, the founder and former director of the Cancer Genetic Counseling Program at Yale School of Medicine, recently wrote in Forbes Magazine : “It is clear that adoption agencies and sperm and egg donation facilities must immediately change their consent processes to eliminate the word ‘anonymous’ and replace it with language that accurately reflects our new DNA reality. The problem, of course, occurs with parties who consented to a process they believed would be anonymous, which is no longer accurate. The children involved, many of whom are now adults, should be informed of their true biologic origins if they haven’t already, preferably by their parents, before they learn the truth from an online DNA matching program.”
Any adoption agency who is advising a birth mother that her identity can be kept anonymous from her offspring, even if she relinquished decades ago, is seriously misleading her. It is a poor and possibly unethical practice.
We must not cling to a reality that no longer exists. We need to advise birth mothers correctly about the end of genetic secrecy. We need to pass a law that enables them to make informed choices and control their own narrative. We need to pass a law that restores equality to all adopted citizens. We need to pass SB 972.
Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD is the President of Access Connecticut Now, Inc., a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization of adoptees, birth and adoptive parents and adoption professionals dedicating to restoring the right of adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificate. She may be reached at the organization’s website, www.accessconnecticut.org or at 860-306-0900.