Albany Democrat-Herald

Thursday July 31, 1998

Opinion: Birth Certificates are a matter of Justice

By Hasso Herring, editor, Albany Democrat Herald

At first glance, the initiative about birth certificates of adoptees seems to involve a violation of trust. But upon further deliberation, it's also a matter of justice and rights.

We are talking about Ballot Measure 58 in the November 3 election. It proposes a law change according to which adopted persons, when turning 21, could demand and get a copy of their true birth certificate. They could get it even if their birth mothers were promised at the time that their identity would not be disclosed.

People who work in the adoption field are leery of this measure. They fear that women who gave up their babies for adoption long ago will suddenly be confronted with their offspring, even against their wishes.

This is a legitimate concern, not to be taken lightly. On the other hand, consider the interests of people who were adopted as babies.

One concern is medical. As they get older, they may benefit from knowing certain things about the medical history of their biological parents.

Another concern stems from the apparent drive in some people toknow their family history, to be assured that they didn't just plop down on this earth. They want to know that they"re one in a line of human beings, and they have an innate drive to learn more about at least their immediate ancestors.

Tough luck, the state now says to them. Unless your birth mother has signed a registry to this effect, it takes a court order for us to give you the name.

Adoptees understandably feel that this puts them down, makes them second-class citizens. Everybody else has a legal right to get a copy of his true birth certificate. But they don't.

By giving them the right that everybody else has, the measure would service justice.

It's true that the results of this change may put some people in a jam. They may have to explain to their families what happened a long time ago, and why some stranger might be sending them a letter or calling on the phone. But in a lot of cases, the births in question were 30 0r 40 years ago. Surely enough time has passed so that no one will be overly damaged if the facts have to be faced.

It's unlikely that there will be a wave of new demands for true birth certificates if this measure becomes law. The beauty of adoption is that in most cases, adoptees become the children of parents who truly want them and who love and care for them for the rest of their lives. Even though the measure would give them the right to information they could get if the need arose, many adoptees may have no interest in rooting about in the biological past.

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