Albany Democrat-Herald

Friday, July 30, 1998

"Initiative measure would open up adoption records"

By Charles E Beggs
Associated Press Writer
Salem (AP)

Barbara Casali-Mingus said finding her natural mother turned out to be a matter of life or death.

Casali Mingus, of Corvallis, was adopted in what she terms the "Gray Market" era of the l940's and 50's when arrangements and record keeping were a bit casual.

Her adopted uncle was her biological mother's doctor but for years he wouldn't disclose anything about her natural parents. Finally, years of card-playing between her adopted brother and the doctor persuaded the physician to give out the name.

Casali-Mingus found her grandmother, living in the same town. And then she found her birth mother in the late 1070's.

The encounter was amiable, but she also discovered her mother was dying of cancer. Her mother admonished her daughter, then 31, to be checked for the disease.

"I told her I had been checked in the last year," Casali-Mingus said. "She says that didn't matter, to get checked anyway. I did and I had cervical cancer. I had an operation and have recovered. "She saved my live," Casali Mingus said. "Everybody has a right to their medical records."

Casali Mingus is among hundreds of adoptees trying to persuade Oregon voters to pass an initiative measure to open adoption records. The proposal qualified for the November ballot as Measure 58. It says adoptees are entitled to get their original birth certificates when they turn 21.

Most states close off adoption records. Only Alaska and Kansas grant access to original birth certificates; two others give qualified access.

Berry Price of Albany has spent nine years going to court and hounding state children's service agencies to learn the identities of his natural parents.

He believes he has a right to the information. "I have no desire to embarrass or interfere with my birth mother's life, He said. "Even though my mother made the right decisions in many ways, she still owes, and I hate to use the word owes, but owes her child that background and medical history and so forth.

Some critics of the initiative measure say it's disputable that there's a legal obligation.

"I think a lot of people are changing the rules of the game." said Catherine Dexter, a Portland Attorney who handles adoptions. "Proponents will say this is a civil rights issue. They claim a right under the Constitution to have their original birth record," she said. But she contends people "don't have an absoloute right to information about our ancestors. I think they have an equal right to privacy." Dexter said the reason she's against the ballot measure is that it would apply the requirement retroactively.

Evelyn Lamb of the Boys and Girls Aid Society in Portland has the same concern.

"There's nothing addressing past promises,", she said, adding that the organization will give information but not take a position on whether the measure should pass.

The society has operated for 113 years and conducted business in confidence, she said, including adoption placements and searches for birth parents.

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