Proposed bill would increase information for adoptees
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SCOTT REEDER, Small Newspaper Group, Springfield Bureau, firstname.lastname@example.org, 217-525-8201
SPRINGFIELD - For Wendy Rogers each time she would have a miscarriage she was left wondering: Did my mother have this problem too?
The 29-year-old Port Byron woman has no way of knowing - she's adopted.
Like many people who were adopted, her family's biological past is a mystery. After suffering two miscarriages, she now has a healthy son. But even that blessing comes with a question: Are there problems in my family tree that my son should know about?
It is stories like Rogers' that have inspired Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, to introduce legislation requiring full disclosure of family medical problems at the time of adoption.
But the bill touches on one of the sorest spots in the national adoption debate.
At issue is how much information should be provided to adult adoptees about their parents.
A spokesman the National Council for Adoption, the nation's largest adoption advocacy group, endorsed Jacobs' proposal saying it was for the sharing of information as long as it doesn't identify the birth parents.
But a spokeswoman for Bastard Nation, one of the nation's largest adoptee's rights groups, called the measure nearly "worthless." (The group's name is derived from the word once stamped on birth certificates of children placed for adoption.)
"Maybe this bill could do a little bit of good -- but not much. This is just a way for people to feel like they are giving adoptees something when it really doesn't address what we really need - access to all of our adoption records," said Anita Walker Field, executive secretary of the organization.
Field, who lives in Skokie, said Illinois adoption records are among the hardest to obtain in the nation.
Despite this, Rogers had a Rock Island County judge order her adoption records unsealed so her attorney could contact the birth mother for medical information.
Although the mother, who lives in the Quad-Cities area, was contacted, she has refused to respond to Rogers request for information.
For Roberts, the silence is frustrating and a bit perplexing. She's quick to note she is not seeking a relationship with the woman - just medical information.
But for Lee Allen, policy director for the National Council for Adoption, such silence is hardly surprising.
"I get calls every week from women - many getting on in years - who once made a difficult decision to give up a child. They all fear the same thing - a knock on the door. Often they haven't told their husband or other children they once gave a child up for adoption," he said.
Field agreed that this isn't a particularly unusual response.
"I've always thought it was mean when these mothers won't respond. Oftentimes, these women view the adoption as something in their past that they just don't want to deal with anymore."
For Allen, there is good reason to shroud the adoption process in confidentiality.
"When a woman is going to have a baby, she has different choices - one of them is to have an abortion, another is to place the baby up for adoption. For many young women, if they were not guaranteed confidentiality, they would choose abortion," he said.
Just as an abortion decision is confidential, so too should be adoption, Allen added.
But for William Winslade, a medical ethics professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, this argument is flawed.
"With an abortion it is a decision the woman makes between herself, her doctor and her personal values," he said. With an adoption, there is a child involved and the family making the adoption needs to know as much as possible about family's medical history, he said.
"There is a lot of anxiety among parents who have adopted a child. They want to do everything they can for the child, but they often don't know the child's genetic history. É The other group who I see a lot of anxiety in is pregnant women, they don't know their family history and they worry that their child will be healthy," said Ellen Kucharski, a genetic counselor at Southern Illinois University's Medical School in Springfield.
Kucharski added knowledge of family genetics can be helpful in the early detection of certain diseases.
"Things like breast cancer, diabetes and other diseases have been found to have genetic links. If someone's birth mother had breast cancer, the person may want to know so they can go in earlier and have more regular mammograms," said Melisha Mitchell, executive director of the White Oak Foundation, a Chicago-based adoption advocacy group.
But Mitchell said she would go a step beyond the legislation proposed by Jacobs and call for continual updates of the biological parent's health.
"Let's say two teenagers give up a baby for adoption and they list themselves as 'healthy' on the adoption form. That really doesn't provide much in the way of meaningful information. The mother may develop breast cancer 15 years later or the father could later develop heart disease. There needs to be a continual update of the information," she said.