I recently had my attention directed to this transcript of a radio program.
The first blog post that brought it to my attention was highly critical of the contributions of Kimberly Leighton, one of the panel guests on the program. Leighton is assistant professor of philosophy at American University and was, I assume, invited to be a part of the discussion because, according to her bio linked to above, "one question Kim asks is: how might current sciences of identity such as genetics and genomics, and the ethical problems they purportedly raise, affect current political, social, and legal critique, particularly in regards to articulations of rights and freedom?"
Makes sense, no? It's also interesting to note that Leighton herself is adopted and has experienced a successful search for her "birth mother" and says her life was improved knowing her and her story.
Seems to me an excellent choice of a guest for a discussion on adoptees using DNA to find family.
I loved that Leighton asked the representative of Family Tree DNA, Bennett Greenspan, how they "handle the more psychological aspects, as well as the ethical ones, of searching -- because many adoptees -- when they do find, they find more complicated situations than they expected."
I don't love that she asked because I think the Family Tree outfit has a responsibility to provide any kind of assistance to their customers in coping with the psychological aspects of searching, I love that Leighton bringing it up opens up (or should open up) discussion about the ethics and ramifications of searching, negative and positive, because it's a discussion worth having.
A large part of that discussion needs to be about our mothers and fathers and whether they want to be found or not, something that seems to be a terribly conflicted topic in online adoption discussions.
Discussing complications and ethics in adoption search does not deny adoptees a right to know or undermine a parent who wants to be found. It actually could aid in achieving openness. What's the difference between saying most mothers did not willingly give up their kids and want to be found and saying most mothers wanted and were promised confidentiality, anonymity, and have no desire to find or be found?
There is none. They both achieve nothing because both are true and if we try and make one or the other gospel, there will always be someone sitting there thinking "well, I know that's not true because it's not my experience", and when that happens, credibility is affected. Every experience is valid and it does no good to pick and choose only the stories that suit an agenda, does no good to minimize circumstances that are unlike our own.
I find the stats that say that the majority of mothers (sorry dads, nobody talks about you) want to be found and to reunite so far-fetched. We aren't going to see the parents who do want to remain anonymous, want their perceived promise of confidentiality honoured, jumping up and down yelling, "here I am!".
We can talk all we want about the world being so small now, the expectation of anonymity being unrealistic, but it wasn't always. My own bio mother said her being found was never supposed to happen. It's why she went "so far away" to give me up.
I'd like to share and comment on a few things Kimberly Leighton said. I think she's bang on with much of what she says within the context of her role on the panel which was as an expert in ethics and an adopted person who has searched successfully.
"When you go on an adoption search, you're not finding a static piece of information. You're stepping into an ongoing life of an infinite number of people." -Nothing to argue with here.
"So it's not simply the same as doing a genealogy. When adoptees go searching, they're opening up Pandora's boxes of other people's lives."
-Anyone who denies that an adoptee searching is different than real kids searching is in a big fat friggin' fog. It is NOT the same thing as doing genealogy for most adoptees. The only way it would be is if the adoptee was just researching out of interest and had no plans to make contact with anyone.
Leighton was asked, "In one case, at least reported in The New York Times, someone found a third cousin. What use is that?".
She answered, "Well, I think this opens up a large -- larger question, which is, what do we think family is? And I think adoptees who are using these services go in already hoping that they're going to find some kind of some kind of connection. And it raises a lot of questions about what the ethical issues here are. And that's probably where I would want to start, in some ways, in this conversation because, in a contemporary situation, when we have closed records, the women who gave up their children for adoption were, in many ways, promised confidentiality. So we have to think about -- as much as we like the happy ending story that these searches seem to promise, we do have to raise, at the first level, the ethical question of what about these women's or men's or larger families' right to privacy." -I guess if you're of the mindset that the only person worthy of privacy is the adoptee and that no mothers felt they were promised or wanted confidentiality then this comment is complete garbage to you but I think, at the very least, it would be helpful to acknowledge the fact that people/families like this exist and aren't as few and far between as people want us to think. Read a thread asking adoptees if their mothers were open or happy to be found, if they were immediately open and welcoming upon contact. In my experience, it's at least half if not more of the adoptees who were not welcomed by their mothers with open arms. Does it make it right? Maybe not. Is it reality? Yes.
"We never really know the full story of why someone has relinquished a child, and we can assume it wasn't an easy choice, no matter what. And to enter -- anyone who enters a search has to enter that process knowing that they don't know what happened. They don't know who's been told. They don't know what the circumstances were. And to find a third cousin and to begin a search backwards that way opens up the possibility that you're presenting yourself to family members who have no idea that this woman might have even been pregnant." -Hear this and believe it!
Hmm, reading through the transcript I could pretty much copy everything Leighton contributed. To me it all came across as balanced and realistic, an excellent assessment on adoptees using DNA services to find family.
Leighton definitely did not come across to me as an enemy, a traitor to adoptees, as only caring about herself and her own search. She didn't offer her personal position on the legal issue of one's birth record and kept her comments confined to the topic which was the use of DNA services by adoptees to locate family. She could hardly pretend there aren't ethical questions and concerns surrounding adoptees searching, especially when using a method that can involve 3 and 4 times removed relatives who barely know each other, if at all.
There was only one thing Leighton said that gave me pause and that's that Canada has no secrecy in adoption. Perhaps she meant in new or recent adoption and/or sperm and egg donation because there certainly is still secrecy and closed records in adoption here. I know this because mine are.
Lastly, I explored and enjoyed this link recommended by Greenspan and want to share it. The DNA Testing Guide .
Oh, and personally, I would use DNA to carefully ascertain who my biological father is. At this point, I am well prepared for anything I might find out. Well, except maybe for how much the DNA testing would end up costing.