When Adoptee Rights Clash with Birth Parent Rights

image c/o www.washingtonblade.com

When a child is placed for adoption, their original birth certificate – the one that names their birth parents and that identifies them by the name their birth parents gave them – is “sealed,” or made private. In most states, the sealed certificate cannot easily be reopened.

Many people whose lives have been touched by adoption support the relatively recent movement to give adoptees access to their original birth certificates so that they can see their original name and the names of their birth parents. Sixteen states, including Maryland, now open or partially open adoption records to adoptees once they reach a certain age (in Maryland this age is 21). Many adoptees have used the information to search for their birth families.

“My Birth Certificate, My Rights”

People who support the unsealing of records believe that:

  • Everyone deserves to have access to their own information
  • Keeping original birth certificates sealed perpetuates shame about adoption
  • It is healthy for adoptees to know where they came from
  • Adoptees need to know who their birth parents are so they can access important medical information
  • Adoptees and birth parents should be able to communicate with one another if they want to

“My Adoption Plan, My Rights”

On the other hand, people who do not support the movement for unsealing records argue that not all birth parents want their children to have identifying information about them and that giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates violates these birth parents’ right to confidentiality. Historically, adoption professionals have promised birth parents that their identifying information would never be shared. Plus, it is important for birth parents to have some control over who knows about their decision given that adoption is often shrouded in secrecy. So the question becomes…

Whose Rights Come First?

We at Adoptions Together have generally supported the opening of adoption records because we have seen adoptees use the information to make connections with their birth parents that improve their well-being and the well-being of their birth parents. However, we are also very strong proponents of birth parents’ rights, so the idea of giving adoptees access to information that a birth parent may have specifically wanted to keep private doesn’t sit very well with us either, especially given that each birth parent has their own reasons for choosing whether or not to remain involved in their child’s life.

What do you think? Do adoptees have the right to their original birth certificates and to communicate with their birth parents based on that information? Do birth parents have a right to privacy from their biological children if they want it? What would you do if you find out that your child had seen their original birth certificate and now wanted to communicate with you? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

One Response to “When Adoptee Rights Clash with Birth Parent Rights”

  1. marilynn

    Rights don’t clash when rights are equal. If anyone is able to ask the question ‘whose rights trump whose?’, it is an absolute sure thing that someone is being discriminated against and someone is being treated unfairly. Equal rights are balanced on the head of a pin – everyone has identical rights and identical obligations and there are no exceptions to the rule.

    If all people are named parents on the birth certificates of their offspring, then all people have an equal expectation that they are in fact the offspring of the parents named on their birth certificates. That would be absolutely equal rights. The moment the government makes an exception to the rule of naming everyone as parents of their own offspring, then some offspring are being treated unfairly and don’t have equal rights.

    The very idea that some parents would be exempted from responsibilities that all other parents, clearly results in their offspring not having the same rights as all other citizens. Equal rights cannot be in competition with one another. If you even pose the question of whose rights trump whose you are missing the point of equal rights altogether. What we need to comprehend is that nobody ever should have exempted some parents from their legal obligations to their offspring because it results in their offspring not being treated equally to other people under the law. So what if it means that some people might not go through with their pregnancies? We need to be concerned with the living not those who were never born. We don’t concern ourselves with all the people never born due to birth control we need not be so concerned that some people might not exist that we actually reduce the rights of millions of people on the premise that if we did not they might never have existed. That is an insane line of thinking. If a person exists they deserve equal rights. There is no other reasonable way to approach the situation. Its really too bad if some parents were promised that they’d be exempted from the rules everyone else has to follow. Exempting them turns out to result in their offspring not having equal rights. This country used to allow some people to buy and sell other people and when we changed the law so that nobody could buy or sell anyone else it equalized the rights of all citizens – but it likely seemed terribly unfair to those who had previously had the privilege. They’d been promised that they could own another person whilst not being owned by anyone themselves. The country decided it was unfair to grant some the right to own others and indeed many people would have invested in something other than human beings had they known the right to own people would be soon stripped of them. I’m sure that many people were bankrupted from loosing so much property when the law changed but that’s just too bad. We can’t worry about the impact of fairness will impact those who have enjoyed the privledge of the upper hand for so long. They are the ones who reproduced and had children and frankly they are the ones who will have to deal with that truth if it comes to bear in their lives. Nobody owes it to anyone to protect them from the consequences of their own actions. Frankly if their life falls apart when their son or daughter comes knocking, it won’t be because they lied and not because they had a son or daughter they did not raise.

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