N.C. Coalition for Adoption Reform
Where did I come from? It is, as state Rep. Margaret Dickson says, a basic human question. One that on the most personal, immediate level, most people can answer.But current state law effectively blocks adult adoptees from those fundamental answers about their history, including family medical history. Sealing birth records can help protect the well-being of adopted children. Because of the complexities and circumstances surrounding adoption, shielding minors from that information can be in their best interests. But when those children become adults, they should have the opportunity to get a fuller picture of their history. First and foremost, they should have access to the most recent medical information available from a biological parent or parents. But they should be able to obtain the most basic details about their origins as well. Dickson, a Cumberland County Democrat, is the primary sponsor of one of two bills in the General Assembly that would allow adoptees age 18 and older, or their direct descendants, access to copies of their original birth certificates beginning Jan. 1, 2008. Both the House and Senate versions of the Access to Information for Adult Adoptees act also would give biological parents options through a consent preference form: They could consent to be contacted by adult offspring, choose not to be contacted, or elect to be contacted only through an intermediary chosen by adoption agencies. Though out-of-wedlock births and adoption don't carry the stigma that they did in years past, "This is a very complex issue. … I understand why this a very sensitive issue for some people and I understand why some people are afraid of this," Dickson said. "… I understand both sides of the argument but on balance, this seems to be the right thing to do." Importantly, the consent preference form proposed in both bills would create an avenue for providing medical history to adult adoptees. Under current law, they can only access nonidentifying medical information if they file a petition in court. Basically, that's the medical information submitted at the time of the adoption, often decades old. Hiring a lawyer and going to court to get updated records takes time and resources some adoptees don't have. If either bill becomes law, birth parents could request the consent preference form at any time. Upon doing so, they'd also receive a medical history form. They could decide to submit current medical information without filing the consent preference form. And when biological parents don't consent to be contacted, adult offspring would be expected to respect their wishes.The N.C. Coalition for Adoption Reform points to the experience of states with open records laws, some passed within the past five years, as proof that such forms work. The coalition also offers compelling support for arguments that attitudes about adoption have changed and that many adult adoptees and birth parents want basic information about each other. Since 2001, state law has allowed biological and adoptive parents the option of sharing identifying information with each other. The law shouldn't continue to deny adoptees of a different era, now matured into adults, the option of deeper knowledge about who they are.