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Adoptions in crisis
A serious disagreement between the United States and Vietnam has jeopardized the continued adoption of Vietnamese babies by Americans.
Among the American couples potentially affected are Ashley and Rob Thurman of Gibsonville, who have been planning toward the adoption of a Vietnamese child since late 2006.
An Associated Press story in late April said the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam issued a report alleging the sale of babies and other forms of corruption in the adoption process in Vietnam.
The story reported that the director of Vietnam's Department of International Adoptions said it is possible bribery of orphanage officials occurred, but denied allegations of more serious offenses such as baby-selling or kidnapping.
The Thurmans live in Gibsonville. Rob Thurman is pastor of The Master's Church in Burlington and Ashley Thurman works in Greensboro as a corporate recruiter.
In planning toward adoption, they've been working with Orphans Overseas, an agency in Portland, Ore.
The Thurmans are hoping it's not too late for negotiations between the two countries' governments to preserve the relationship that has allowed Americans to adopt Vietnamese children. Americans adopted more than 800 Vietnamese children in 2007, an Associated Press report says.
Ashley Thurman has a meeting on Monday with U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro whose congressional district includes parts of Alamance and Guilford counties and other portions of central North Carolina. She's also been in touch with the offices of Sens. Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole.
She feels the United States government has embarrassed the Vietnamese and is going to ask Coble "to pressure the (U.S.) State Department for culturally sensitive negotiations."
So far, she said, representatives of the American government haven't productively handled their concerns.
"They have not responded in a way that would be appropriate to that culture," she said. "They have offended the Vietnamese officials."
The Thurmans said Canada and European countries where people adopt babies from Vietnam don't appear to be taking the same approach as the United States.
"They haven't shut down their work in Vietnam," Rob Thurman said.
The Thurmans have been pursuing adoption of a Vietnamese child since December 2006. They've gone though medical evaluations, criminal background checks and home visits and have been waiting to have a child referred to them since August 2007.
Time is running out: As things stand now, the Thurmans have been told that American couples who don't have a child referred to them by Sept. 1 will not be able to adopt a child.
In 2003, the United States suspended adoptions from Vietnam over concerns about corruption. The two countries reached an agreement in 2006 that allowed adoptions to resume, and that agreement expires Sept. 1.
The Thurmans have spent about $10,000 so far and would likely spend another $15,000 to successfully conclude an adoption from Vietnam.
Thurman said Vietnam initially appealed to her and her husband as a starting point for adoption because, initially, it had one of the shortest waiting lists.
It also seemed to be a good fit with their ages and income level. He is 40 and she is 35. Some South American countries, for example, have an upper age limit of 38.
At first, Ashley Thurman said, she was mostly focused on her own difficulties, but she's become more worried about the welfare of Vietnamese children in general. She said Orphans Overseas and other American adoption agencies do humanitarian work in Vietnam and won't be there to continue that unless adoptions by American couples can continue.
"I was really upset about my adoption," she said. "But the more I think about it, the more I'm upset about the lives of the children. There are a lot of children who could suffer."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.