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Changing the rules on adoption

Next month Oregon voters will decide whether an adult who was adopted has the same right of access to his or her birth certificate that most other citizens have - that is, being able to walk into city hall and simply ask for the paper.

With the exception of Kansas and Alaska, which allow open access to the records, states seal these documents at the time of adoption, replacing the birth parents' names with those of the adoptive parents. Getting the original certificate is typically a long process that requires consent from the adoption agency or the ruling of a judge.

In this age of free-flowing information and increased demand for individual rights, it may be tempting to give an unequivocal nod to the adoptees and cheer the ballot initiative, which has the attention of advocates and opponents across the country.

But the proposal has a blind spot. It does not acknowledge that a birth mother or father has rights too, chief among them the right to privacy. Any law getting into this delicate relationship should consider the needs of some parents to keep the door latched on the past.

We favor a compromise that gives adoptees access to their birth certificates but also requires that an intermediary - either an adoption agency or a judge - contact the birth parents to find out if a meeting with the son or daughter is desired. That is now done in many states, and most of such meetings go well.

Advocates say such a sensitivity clause is a moot point when a scan of the Internet or the hiring of one of a growing number of adoption search agencies can usually locate a parent even if the adoptee does not have a parent's name.

But just because something is doable and common does not make it fair or mean that it should be written into law. There are many reasons for finding a birth parent, including closure and the need for genetic information. But parents may have valid reasons for not being found. These reunions will be more rewarding if they are brokered with respect for both parties.

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 10/05/98.
© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.

© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company
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