Wayne Post
  • Joel Freedman: A question of identity

  • We are talking about the rights of adopted adults, not adopted children. A.747 would give adult adoptees the rights they deserve to have, rights that have often been wrongfully denied them.

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  • In the mid-1970s, John, a Marine Corps veteran who had experienced combat in Vietnam, requested my help with a situation that required counseling, contact with social agencies and legal assistance.
    When I discussed the matter with local attorneys, caseworkers and judges, they said John should not get what he wanted. “John would be traumatized” if he received the information he wanted, one lawyer said. A Department of Social Services caseworker insisted that John’s intentions would be “harmful to everyone involved.” And a judge told me he had “serious ethical questions about this issue.”
    New York State law, I learned, placed many obstacles in the paths of people who, like John, were asking society to consider their needs in a light different from the way they had been considered in the past.
    John is an adoptee. He was searching for his birth parents, not out of rejection of his adoptive parents he loved, but as a way of establishing his own identity.
    John retained an attorney who petitioned Ontario County Surrogate Judge Joseph Cribb to unseal the birth records. John’s plea that his ancestry was a burning, unresolved issue for him was cited in the petition, which was co-signed by John’s adoptive parents who supported their son’s search. I wrote a letter to Cribb suggesting denial of this information could be detrimental to John’s well-being and social adjustment.
    Cribb did what most judges during the 1970s would not do. He decided to grant John access to his records. Shortly thereafter, John had lunch with his birth mother. He learned that when he was born, his 16-year-old mother was unmarried, with no remaining emotional ties with John’s father. She could not provide the kind of life she wanted her son to have. She felt that adoption would offer him a better chance in life.
    Until the time John discretely contacted her, his birth mother had not told the man she later married or her other children about her first child. But after talking with John on the phone, she decided to tell her family about him, and nobody was traumatized.
    After their meeting, in which John learned a lot about his birth parents, John’s birth mother said she preferred to have no further involvement in his life. John accepted her decision. He wrote to his birth father but received no response. Nevertheless, John told me, “It’s like a great big weight has been taken off my shoulders,” and that he could now move on with his life. Their sensitivity to his needs made John all the more appreciative of his adoptive parents who he continued to regard as his “real parents.”
    According to one Missouri State Supreme Court justice, “All of us need to know our past, not only for a sense of lineage and heritage, but for a fundamental and crucial sense of our very selves. Our identity is incomplete and our sense of self retarded without a real personal historical connection. Is there any reasonable justification for us to prevent in perpetuity the genealogical self-discovery of those among us who were adopted?”
    Page 2 of 2 - In the 21st century, 10 states have removed most or all restrictions that hinder adult adoptees’ searches. Here in New York, Assemblyman David Weprin, along with his 63 co-sponsors, including Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua, recently reintroduced A.747, a bill that would largely eliminate barriers for adult adoptees wishing to contact birth parents who don’t object to disclosure of their identities to the adoptees. However, the bill faces obstacles for passage in the Assembly, and there is no companion bill in the State Senate.
    A.747 should be enacted into law. The bill respects a birth parent’s privacy rights. A birth parent would be allowed to indicate a no-contact stipulation on a contact preference form. In such cases, the identity of the birth parent would not be divulged to the adult adoptee.
    Since most birth parents want to meet their offspring, this bill would allow most adult adoptees in New York to request and receive a certified copy of an original birth certificate. Unless the adoptive family relationship is unsound to begin with, an adoptee’s interest in roots is not a rejection of adoptive parents.
    We are talking about the rights of adopted adults, not adopted children. A.747 would give adult adoptees the rights they deserve to have, rights that have often been wrongfully denied them.
    Freedman, of Canandaigua, is a frequent Messenger Post contributor and a member of the Daily Messenger’s Reader Advisory Board. His opinions do not reflect those of the advisory board.

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